The Importance of Listening
The communication cycle alternates between talking and listening. The exchanges are sometimes lengthy, sometimes rapid-fire. It's a back-and-forth process, with each participant playing both roles. Too many people view listening as a passive act when it's actually just as active as talking. The problem is that we tend to spend listening time thinking about what we're going to say next. Or about what to cook for dinner tonight, whether those concert tickets are still available, when the cat's due for her next set of shots — we think about anything but what the other person is saying.
Just as there is more to speaking than uttering a sequence of words, there is more to listening than processing the sounds that enter your ears. Sometimes the real message lies in what's
Words are only a small percentage of the typical communication process — just 7 percent, in fact. Body language and nonverbal cues account for 55 percent, while 38 percent is the tone of voice. Dialogue that takes place over the telephone is missing over half the content of typical communication!
Effective listening is an activity that requires your full and focused attention:
Engage your mind to slow down your brain. Let it hear every word as if it were a delightful chocolate that you want to savor until it melts away, letting every molecule of flavor seep into your senses.
Beware the familiarity trap. As soon as the words begin to sound familiar, the search for new information ends. “I've heard this before!” your mind says, and it turns its attention elsewhere. Bring it back! Most listening mistakes occur when you assume something that isn't so.
Don't cross the line from anticipation to assumption. Anticipating someone's response or next question often helps you shape your end of the communication. But there's a fine line between anticipating and assuming, and assuming will almost always get you in trouble.
Maintain and keep eye contact, just as when you're speaking. This shows that you're listening and demonstrates your sincerity. It also helps you pick up on nonverbal cues.
Don't formulate your response or mentally argue while the person is still speaking. You can't be listening to someone else if you're busy listening to yourself.
Listening effectively doesn't mean you have to let conversations roam where they will. You can, and often should, shape the direction of dialogue (at least in a business context). Use natural pauses to ask questions or make comments that keep the conversation on track. Learn when you can interrupt smoothly and effectively. Ask structured, open-ended questions to frame the subject yet allow the person to respond freely: “What happened when you opened the box and discovered that all the templates were reversed?”
Closed posture implies a closed mind. Folding your arms across your chest and crossing your legs is a classic defensive posture that delivers the message, “Don't mess with me.” Rarely is this a message that's appropriate in the workplace. Your tendency to take this posture may be defensive, a subconscious effort to protect yourself from bad news or negative feedback.