“You’re not listening to me!” Truth be told, most people are either good at giving or receiving information, but not both. So it isn’t surprising that one-way communication causes serious rifts in interpersonal and professional relationships alike. Businesses lose millions each year to miscommunications stemming from a failure to listen to and understand customers’ needs.
“Many people confuse hearing with active listening,” says Audrey Nelson, Ph.D., a communication consultant and trainer in Boulder, Colorado (www.audreynelson.com). “Hearing is an automatic, physical function. Because you heard the words doesn’t necessarily mean you were listening to the message.”
The Writing Lab, a Purdue University newsletter, identifies several types of nonlisteners:
- The mind reader. You’ll hear little or nothing, because you’re too busy thinking, “What is this person really thinking or feeling?”
- The rehearser. By mentally trying out what you’re going to say next, you tune out the speaker.
- The dreamer. Drifting off during a face-to-face conversation can lead to an embarrassing “What did you say?” and “Can you repeat that?”
- The comparer. When you get sidetracked assessing the messenger, you miss the message itself.
- The derailer. Changing the subject too quickly tells others you’re not interested in what they have to say.
- The sparrer. You hear what’s said but quickly belittle it or discount it.
- The placater. Agreeing with everything you hear just to be nice or to avoid conflict doesn’t mean you’re a good listener.
The following tips can help you become more adept at listening and increase your value to your company:
Head your physical makeup. There’s a reason why you have two ears and only one mouth. Focus on listening twice as much as you speak.
- Prepare to listen. To listen effectively, you must be able to give the speaker your undivided attention. Put aside your work or food to concentrate on what the other person is saying.
- Give feedback. Never assume you completely understand what you’re hearing. Repeat what you’ve heard in your own words. This gives the other person an opportunity to clarify any points you may have missed.
- Use nonfluency cues.
- “Um-hum” and “Hmm,” interjected at appropriate points, acknowledge the speaker and show that you’re following what he or she is saying.
- Use nonverbal cues. Use body language to show that you’re paying attention. Establish direct eye contact, lean toward the speaker and nod your head.