Whether you’re hearing from a colleague who has just received a disappointing performance review, a prospective client who voices her frustration about the economy, or your boss who is frustrated by the lack of participation at staff meetings, you do not need to resolve the issue they’re describing to you.
But, if you are like most people, you jump right in with ideas on how to respond or strategize for better results when someone talks to you about a troubling situation. This reactive approach is your first instinct and from a desire to make the person feel better or to improve his or her situation. Even though your heart may be in the right place, you are guessing at what he or she needs, and not actually hearing the full story. Furthermore, you probably spend much of the time someone is speaking to you planning what you’ll say in response.
It’s is estimated that the adult attention span is about 22 seconds before they are distracted to something else and that we hear only 50% of what is spoken to us and retain only 20% of that for any length of time. What we accurately understand from what is said to us is a paltry percentage of what is said. So, there’s much room for improved communication through real listening.
Here are several tips on listening that may make an important difference in how you communicate from now on.
1. Give your full attention to the person who is speaking.
2. Look at the person’s face and avoid any distractions. If your mind begins to wander, shift the position of your body and try to concentrate on the speaker’s words.
3. Don’t interrupt the speaker before she or he finishes.
4. Listen for main ideas and the feelings the speaker is communicating.
5. When the person is done speaking, tell him or her what you understood.
6. Ask questions if you need clarification. For example, you might say, “When you said that you’ve had it with your job, did you mean you want to quit?
7. Begin to understand that true listening in and of itself is often all you need to do.
“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.” –Robert McCloskey
“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.” –Chinese Proverb