I will wrap up this series by discussing steps to become better listeners.
Good eye contact indicates interest and attention by leaning forward, nodding your head, and making encouraging gestures. Keep your body relaxed, open and focused on the speaker. Avoid crossed arms and legs, clenched fists, turning the eyes/head/body away or being easily distracted; this shows you are not interested or you are opposing. Avoid distracting behaviours, such as talking to your help, driver, nanny, watching TV, mobile phones, computers, tablets, ipads etc. These make it difficult for you to listen and distract the speaker. Also bear in mind shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt, or other emotions, along with cultural taboos, can inhibit eye contact in some people under some circumstances. Excuse the other person, but stay focused.
Now that you’ve made eye contact, relax. You don’t have to stare fixedly at the other person. You can look away now and then and carry on like a normal person. The important thing is to be attentive. Mentally screen out distractions, like background activity and noise. In addition, try not to focus on the speaker’s accent or speech mannerisms to the point where they become distractions. Finally, don’t be distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or biases.
Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things she tells you, you never know you can learn a thing or two. If what she says alarms you, go ahead and feel alarmed, but don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move”… Let the other person know you value what he or she is saying, even if you don’t agree. Try to avoid responding negatively for example criticizing, ridiculing, dismissing, diverting (talking about yourself rather than about what the other person has said) or rejecting the other person or what they are saying As soon as you start being judgmental, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your mind is powerful so it will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with all your senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.
When it’s your turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next. You can’t rehearse and listen at the same time. Think only about what the other person is saying.
Finally, concentrate on what is being said, even if it bores you. If your thoughts start to wander, like thinking about what you are going to have for lunch or wear for the next wedding party. Immediately force yourself to refocus.
Allow the other person to talk without interruption until he or she gets to the point. Let them finish their sentences before attacking. . Try to avoid giving unwanted advice or direction unless the person specifically requests it from you. For example, if a friend or co-worker simply wants to vent about an incident that frustrated him, he may not appreciate you giving unwanted advice about how you feel he or she should…
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, “hope you don’t mind?” “I didn’t understand what you just said about…”
If you feel sad when the person with whom you are talking expresses sadness, joyful when she expresses joy, fearful when she describes her fears—and convey those feelings through your facial expressions and words—then your effectiveness as a listener is assured. Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening, it is a generous and helpful thing to do, and it facilitates communication like nothing else does. This is also a practical demonstration of us loving our neighbours
Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. Like saying “You must be thrilled!” “What a terrible ordeal for you.” “I can see that you are confused.” If the speaker’s feelings are hidden or unclear, then occasionally paraphrase the content of the message. Or just nod and show your understanding through appropriate facial expressions and an occasional well-timed “hmmm” or “uh huh” “ok”,” “Abi” I can imagine”. These encourage the other person to speak and show that you are interested in what he or she is saying.
If you exclude email, social networking, the majority of direct communication is probably nonverbal. We learn a great deal of information about each other without saying a word. Even over the telephone, you can learn almost as much about a person from the tone of their voice than from anything they say… Face to face with a person, you can detect enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation very quickly in the expression around the eyes, the set of the mouth, the slope of the shoulders. These are clues you can’t ignore. When listening, remember that words convey only a fraction of the message.
For the next one week please try this exercise by consciously applying these steps and summarising every time you have a conversation with someone to show you are actively listening. Remember our bad listening skills will not stop overnight, requires patience, persistence practice, it is a journey.