Hearing is a physical ability, while listening is a skill. Listening skills allow one to make sense of and understand what another person is saying. In other words, listening skills allow people to understand what someone is talking about - the meaning behind the words.
Listening is so important that many top employers provide listening skills training for their employees. This is not surprising when you consider that good listening skills can lead to better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, and increased sharing of information that in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work.
Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs credit their success to effective listening skills. Richard Branson frequently quotes listening as one of the main factors behind the success of Virgin.
Listening is very important if you are going to encourage two-way communication.
Any personal thoughts have to wait until the speaker breaks or finishes. This can be particularly hard if you have a specific worry.
Put yourself in their shoes and be patient with them. Remember the receiver may be new to the subject so may not be able to explain things as well as you can.
You may assume that when they start telling you something that you know their full meaning. This can happen increasingly the more experienced you get. You may think, “I’ve heard this one” and start the answer before they’ve had the chance to finish what they are saying. And you’d be wrong 95% of the time.
In order to improve listening skills, all you need to do is use ears – not just your ears (organs nature intended for hearing and listening, but the acronym EARS.
Here’s how you can use EARS to improve listening…
If you need to ask further questions to clarify any more details, do so. Don’t assume anything if unsure.
You can make the small verbal noises to demonstrate you are listening. Things like “yes” “right” “I see”. Make sure you say these using the right tone of voice otherwise you will seem insincere.
As soon as a person starts speaking to you make eye contact and smile so that they feel comfortable with talking to you. Perhaps even move closer to them, being careful not invade their personal space as they may find this intimidating.
Paraphrase back what they have said to demonstrate you have understood. In this way you are checking all the facts without repeating them parrot fashion. This is often left out and misinterpretation occurs as a result.
Effective listening is a way of showing true concern for the speaker and their situation. This increases interpersonal bonding, forming a basis for commitment and trust.
So for now, use EARS to listen. Some more on listening in a later piece…