Times have changed. We now function in a high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world. Communication is more important then ever, yet we often seem to overlook the importance of really listening to each other.
Effective listening has been proven to:
- help resolve conflicts
- improve efficiency by averting potential mistakes and misunderstandings
- save time
- build relationships.
People, in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that function, but seldom have they acquired the necessary skills for listening effectively.
People find it more difficult to concentrate while listening than during any other form of communication. This is because the human brain has the capacity to digest information at around 400 words per minute. But we speak at around 125 words per minute. That means three-quarters of our brains could be used to do something else while someone is speaking. Losing concentration and having extra thinking time leads to issues such as:
- Making assumptions
- Missing the point
- Interpreting things in a way that wasn’t intended
- Jumping to conclusions
- Focusing on our own points/agenda
All of this of course, leads to poor listening and potentially poor outcomes.
In order to listen effectively we need to:
- Clear your brain of distractions by doing a ‘brain dump’, making notes or task lists you can easily pick up again later.
- Make a decision to listen.
- Reserve judgment and let go of any assumption that you already know what the other person will say.
- Turn off phones, other mobile devices and computers.
The acronym FOCUS can help you to remember the key points to effective listening
- F – Feedback your interest with encouraging noises such as “hmmm” or “really”
- O – Observe the speaker’s body language and facial expressions as potential sources of meaning so you can also read between the lines to gain a deeper understanding
- C – Clarify your understanding by asking questions to sharpen the focus of the conversation
- U – Use pauses to reflect or draw out more information.
- S – Summarize periodically and at the end of the conversation to ensure you’re both clear on what was said.
Nobody can listen effectively all the time, we need to be aware of those situations when we need to ‘turn our listening ears on!’ These are primarily situations with:
- Potential or actual conflict particularly involving emotions
- Significant consequences for getting it wrong eg financial, reputation etc
Listening in the 21st century is more challenging than ever but if we FOCUS our listening skills we can improves outcomes in all sorts of ways.