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Do you sometimes find yourself struggling to pay attention to someone who is speaking, maybe you are in a meeting or perhaps over the phone? The speaker is droning on and on about something. How often do have thoughts such as “What am I going to have for my dinner“, “Will I have time to finish that report?“, “What a jerk” or I hope I am not late picking the kids up” crossed your mind? Your mind is elsewhere, you are distracted and not giving your full attention to what is being said, you are listening over the words. In other words, you are not actively listening to the speaker.  

Worse yet what if you are the speaker and you happen upon the flagrant interrupter. “Hang on a second, let me just finish my point.” Listening in this case is not the same as waiting for your turn to talk.

Listening can be further complicated by the fact that two different people listening to the same thing may understand the message in two different ways, which could be why there are so many opportunities in the average conversation for meanings to be misconstrued.

Sometimes the most important factor in listening is in order to develop or sustain a relationship, so that at any given time you may have more than one goal for listening. Maybe you are in sales or negotiating with someone, where it is helpful if the other person likes you and trusts you. On the other hand, you may be listening to learn about something while attempting to be empathetic.

Regardless of what you listen for, all types of listening requires concentration and a conscious effort to understand which makes all types of listening ‘active’. Which is perhaps why most people think that listening is too time consuming. After all listening involves understanding the message that is being communicated and if someone is using overly complicated language or technical jargon, this can be a bit taxing trying to decipher what is being said. Sometimes you may feel like you don’t have enough time to be a receptive listener. Consider having the conversation later or explaining that you are distracted or ask the person to bottom-line it for you.

Listening types can be further defined by the goal of the listening. For example when you are listening to learn you are taking in new information and facts that is one type of listening or perhaps you are listening to evaluate or listening to understand feelings and emotions. Being able to distinguish the subtleties made by someone who is happy or sad, angry or stressed, adds value and comprehension to what is actually being said.

Being an active listener, means you have to listen with all your senses. You need to be able to read nonverbal signals sent from the speaker, such as their tone of voice, gestures and general body language. The ability to “listen” to body language enables you to begin to understand the speaker more fully – for example recognizing somebody is sad despite what they are saying or how they are saying it.

Aside from giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ be also ‘seen’ to be listening. Interest can be conveyed by using both verbal and non-verbal messages, like maintaining eye contact, nodding your head, smiling, agreeing or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage. Conveying this ‘feedback’ is important to the person speaking.

 To be an effective listener is not easy. It means actively focusing on the meaning of the words that you hear and putting them into context to gain understanding.

Active listening is also about patience. Every time there are a few seconds of silence, you should not be jumped on with questions or comments. As the listener, you have to give the other person time to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Everyone likes to be listened to, and to be asked for their views.

By learning to actively listen and exercising patience, you will have  better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, increased sharing of information that in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work, be able to save time, not waste time, and improve the quality of your professional realtionships.

I invite you to share your experiences or thoughts, or comments. You can email or call me for more information on soft skills/interpersonal skills workshops that can transform IT employees.