We are all guilty of it.
We do not listen to understand, instead, we listen to answer.
But if we spend a little bit of time learning what is attentive listening and some simple techniques, we can become very successful communicators.
Hearing But Not Listening
“If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.” — Robert Baden-Powell
We spend a lot of time talking and listening in an attempt to try to communicate with each other.
However, communicating with others is not an easy thing to do, and to perfect this skill takes time and practice.
Most people think that to improve communication is to learn to speak better, but before we can do that we have to learn to listen better.
A lot of people listen but do not hear. Instead, they focus on formulating an answer.
The problem with that is that you cannot formulate a meaningful answer without hearing first what is being said.
The good news is that with a willingness and a few conscious changes we can become an attentive listener.
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What Is Attentive Listening?
“To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Attentive listening is the ability to really hear what the speaker is saying.
Being able to demonstrate that you have understood the message being conveyed will encourage the speaker to speak more freely.
By being able to really hear what is being said, the speaker will feel not judged and will open up more.
If I’m honest with myself, often, I catch myself not fully listening to the other person, instead after a sentence or two, my mind slips into formulating my answer.
The problem with that is that I did not fully hear what my speaking partner was trying to communicate to me.
I assumed that I knew what was being said and instead focused on formulating the response.
Of course, in those situations, often times my answer was not accurate or correct since we do not mind readers and the only way for us to try to understand what the other person is saying is to actually listen.
Sadly, I have noticed that I am not alone in my poor habit of not fully listening to the speaker.
Ever since I started paying attention, I realized that a lot of us do that.
It seems that we need to quickly revisit the basics and be reminded what is the purpose of communication.
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The Purpose of Communication
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” — M. Scott Peck
Let’s assume that the main purpose of communication is to send and receive messages from each other.
Sometimes, that is not the goal.
Some people love to hear themselves talk, others prefer to be “right”.
But let’s leave those situations alone as they are not “communication”.
Also, sticking to the true purpose of communication, achieving efficiency would be an important aspect.
So, to start off with assuming that I know what is being communicated to me instead of actually attentively listening is not a good start as far as efficiency goes.
Most likely the message will have to be repeated a few times and clarified.
I can think of situations where I would have a long conversation with someone just to realize that I misunderstood or didn’t correctly hear the very first statements of the conversation.
What followed was an argument until later on, we discovered that the main premises of the conversation were missed.
It’s impossible to achieve efficiency in communication without first becoming an attentive listener.
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The Benefits Of Attentive Listening
“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable — and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.” — Peter Nulty
One thing that is not necessarily clear to everyone is that words are really just symbols.
We have our thoughts and ideas and to be able to convey them to others we need some sort of medium.
And that’s where words come into play.
Words are just symbols that we as a society have tried to assign meaning to so that we are able to exchange what’s in our minds.
Wouldn’t telepathy be so much easier?
Probably, but we are not there yet.
So we are left with using words to communicate with each other.
If you keep that in mind, it is very easy to see why attentive listening is very important.
There are many benefits of learning the skill of attentive listening:
- efficiency – saving time
- neutral and non-judgemental
- no misunderstandings
- open-minded to different points of view
- people will enjoy speaking with you
- people will feel empathy and open up more
- people will feel respected and valued
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How To Practice Active Listening
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”— Larry King
- don’t assume you know what will be said
- don’t interrupt
- observe – pay attention to non-verbal language
- focus by quieting your mind
- show interest by non-verbal behavior and by asking questions
- make eye contact
- be patient with yourself and others
- learn to recognize the signs of active listening in others
- be present, don’t get lost in your mind
- put yourself in the speaker’s shoes and try to see things from her/his perspective
- repeat back key points to ensure you understood them properly
- remember you can only change your behavior not other
Nonverbal Behavior Of Attentive Listeners:
- leaning in
- nodding and smiling
- eye contact
- showing interest by raising eyebrows
- no interruptions
As you can see becoming an attentive listener is not that hard.
Like any skill, it will take time and practice to perfect it and it starts with the awareness that we want to become attentive listeners.
Understanding how that will improve our ability to communicate with others, and the willingness to practice until we are good will ensure that we become attentive listeners.
Attentive listening is one of those skills that will improve communication in our personal lives as well as in our professional one and most importantly it will make communication with others much more pleasant for both.
You will be able to learn more and others will appreciate the attention and respect given them.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” — Karl A. Menniger
What a great reminder – I learned about active listening many years ago, but realize how easy it is to slip. back into old habits. It’s funny how we all just want to be seen and heard, so we often interject in an attempt to feel connected when it really isn’t our turn. A well-delivered article with some clear actionable items I can put back in my toolbox right away. Thanks so much!
Thank you for your comment. I couldn’t agree more. It really is interesting how often we do not even hear what is being said in what is supposed to be a conversation. But it all starts with becoming aware and then it’s not that hard to fix. Once we are reminded of the purpose of communication, active listening just follows naturally.