Effective Listening

Effective Listening

“You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said, have you?”  I thought “That’s a strange way for my partner to start a conversation…”

We know that meaningful and effective communication is essential to our function and growth as people. However, today’s insistence on speedy interactions has undoubtedly produced quicker results but at the expense of quality and resilience.

These days we want our food, coffee, music, fashion and impulse purchases in an instant. So communication, like many other aspects of our lives, has been affected by our increasingly insatiable desire for speed. The impulse for instant gratification can be seen in the rise in popularity of instant messaging. While getting questions or comments out quickly does have its benefits, all too often we focus solely on what we say rather than what we hear.

Just so we are crystal clear here people; listening is not the same as hearing. While hearing is a physiological process, listening is a conscious process that requires us to be mentally attentive. Effective listening is more than a simply a mental process; to ‘hear’ the listener must not only understand what is being said verbally, but also the non-verbal communication that informs what is said. This refers to the communication goals of both sender and listener, and the context framing the act of speech.

Think about how much information you get every day from listening. Your partner, your colleagues, your friends, and your children may communicate with you often. But have you really thought about how much of what all these people say do you pay attention to? How much are you actually remembering from these conversations? On reflection, it could be much less than you think!

At times, we may act like we are listening to the other person. But the reality is that our minds are racing to other topics (what am I making for dinner this evening?, who is picking the kids up? etc. or we already planning what we’re going to say in return when there is a chance for me to speak in the conversation. What this means is that we can miss important things that the other person is saying to us.

Active Listening is when you make a conscious effort to hear and understand people so that you get the complete message. There are several things we can do to become an active listener. First and most importantly, we need to pay attention. For example, making eye contact with the person talking to you. We need to try and ignore outside factors, like other conversations, the television, our phones; so that you can focus solely on what the person is saying. We really need to be present, which means putting our own thoughts on hold. Resist the urge to start planning out what you’re going to say in return. I know it is difficult but it does improve with practice.

We also need to show the other person that we are listening to them. We can nod our heads, smile, and say “yes” occasionally. All of these signals let the other person know that you’re still with them.

Providing feedback on what the other person has just said is another important part of active listening. For instance, all of us hear information through our own personal filters and judgments, which can impact on our understanding. To make sure we have heard and understood the message correctly, paraphrase it or repeat it back to the person.

We also need to avoid interrupting people when they are speaking. Once they have finished, we can respond appropriately with an honest answer or opinion.

Active listening is a skill that all of us should use more often. The better we are at listening, the more information we will receive. This can massively improve our communication skills, and sustain healthy relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

Kellie O’Dowd 

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