Communication is at the heart of everything we do each day, whether at home, work or play. It involves talking and listening – actively listening. Unfortunately, in today’s technology-driven, fast-paced world, studies suggest many of us are spending less and less time to really listening to one another. In essence our messages are going in one ear and out the other.
The ramifications of not actively listening to others are aplenty. By not being an active listener, you can be portrayed as disrespectful or lacking appreciation, understanding or empathy. It even could cost you your job.
"We were given two ears but only one mouth,
because listening is twice as hard as talking."
-Epictetus (AD 55 - c. 135)
As an active listener, it’s important to try to understand the message from the speaker’s point of view. It includes letting the speaker know you’re listening and you’ve understood what was said. Head nodding, smiles and eye contact are indications you’re tuned in.
Mind you, this is not the same as hearing, which is a physical process where sound enters the eardrum and messages are passed to the brain. Rather, active listening can be described as an attitude that leads to listening for shared understanding. When we make a decision to actively listen, we listen for the content (the message) of what’s being said as well as the attitude behind what’s being said. Is the speaker happy, angry, excited, sad…or something else entirely?
Active listening encompasses the best of communication: hearing and understanding what’s really being said, processing the information and responding in order to clarify and elicit more information.
Active listening is the foundation of effective communication. It solves problems and resolves conflicts. It builds relationships and careers.
Develop and practice these six tips to fine-tune your listening skills: