What is Active Listening
Everybody loves a good listener

a great active listening example by Robert McCloskey

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but

I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Human beings normally have two ears, nevertheless it's our one mouth that takes the show. Even if most of us describe ourselves as “being good listeners,” what we end up hearing most of the time is ourselves.

We may have come into this life with the ability to listen, but active listening is a skill that must be mastered.

The essence of active listening is being able to focus on what another person is saying without being distracted. When someone speaks, they want to feel heard, this need is ingrained in all of us. Human beings need to communicate, when we can't or feel that we're not being listened to, it affects that most basic part of ourselves – our self esteem.

The better you are at active listening, the more information you will attain from what others are telling you.
This can pay off with big rewards in your career and strengthen the bond with your family and friends.
How well you listen has a major impact on job effectiveness and the quality of your relationships.

Listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving.

Listening creates an environment of trust.

Companies are learning that trust determines the speed of communication.
When trust is low you limit communication.
When people are in trust they communicate everything openly without restrictions. You get a huge flow on information.
With distrust they only communicate a small percentage of the information they have.
Eventually this leads to breakdowns.

Think about how much information you get everyday from listening.

And of all of this listening how much are you:
1. actually remembering from these conversations?
2. actually really paying attention?

Chances are it is a lot less then you think.

A lot of the time we ACT as if we are listening to another person but in reality our minds are onto other topics or are already planning what we are going to say in return.

When we are pre-occupied with ourselves and our own thoughts we can miss important things the other person is saying.

The 5 Key Elements of Active Listening

There are five key elements of conscious listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they say.

Pay Attention.

  • Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. Recognize that non-verbal communication also "speaks" loudly.
  • Look at the speaker directly.
  • Put aside distracting thoughts.
  • Don't mentally prepare a rebuttal! 
  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors. 
  • "Listen" to the speaker's body language.
  • Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.

Show that You Are Listening.

  • Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
  • Nod occasionally.
  • Smile and use other facial expressions.
  • Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.

Provide Feedback.

  • Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear.
  • As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said.
  • This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.
  • Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. "What I'm hearing is." and "Sounds like you are saying." are great ways to reflect back.
  • Ask questions to clarify certain points. "What do you mean when you say." "Is this what you mean?"
    Summarize the speaker's comments periodically. 

Tip: If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: "I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?".

Defer Judgment.

  • Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
  • Allow the speaker to finish.
  • Don't interrupt with counter arguments.

Respond Appropriately.

  • Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. 
  • You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down. 
  • Be candid, open, and honest in your response. 
  • Assert your opinions respectfully. 
  • Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated.

Some Key Points re Active Listening

  • It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. 

  • Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as many people's are, then there's a lot of habit-breaking to do!

  • Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying.

  • Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors and concentrate on the message.

  • Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message.
    If you don't, then you'll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!

Start using active listening today to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and develop better relationships.

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