The Art of Listening

Whether the conversation is on the phone or face to face, someone invariably asks, “Did you hear me?” What the person means is “Do you understand what I’m saying?” Most miscommunications or misunderstandings are the direct result of ineffective listening. The person may have heard what you said, but didn’t or couldn’t understand it.

Mastering the ‘Art of Listening’ is as crucial for the speaker as it is for the listener. Great communicators listen while they speak and speak while they listen. How we listen is impacted by our memories, experiences, and prejudices. Understanding the importance of being tuned into the other person; attending to their ideas, messages, or perspectives is also a vital part of any successful interaction. Your non-verbal communication such as eye contact and facial expressions become a critical part of the communication process. They let the other person know you understanding, agree, or disagree.

We are engaged in some form of communication during about 75% of our day. About half of that time is spent listening. Being a skilled listener impacts your ability to successfully close a deal, keep a customer/client, run a productive company, or complete a project in a timely fashion. Effective listening is an active not a passive process. It is learned or at least honed, not innate. Many people tend to half listen because there are so many distractions both externally and internally.

Active listening is a conscious process and takes practice and possibly coaching. If you have a weak tennis serve, you will hire a coach to help you improve the skill, since merely being able to return the ball does not mean you can play a successful game of tennis. The same is true when it comes to having meaningful conversations. You can’t just talk, you must know how to effectively listen.

Being a great listener is also difficult because we tend to remember only about 25% of what we hear. If we remember something incorrectly or incompletely, there tends to be a breakdown in communication. The goal is to become a more skilled listener. The attributes of an effective listener aren’t smiling, nodding, and waiting for your turn to talk. They require active engagement. One characteristic of active listening is paraphrasing. It lets the speaker know you either understood or misunderstood the message. In either case, it is what will drive the conversation. Successful listeners are comfortable asking for clarification; they aren’t embarrassed to ask the speaker to repeat or further explain what they said.

Active listening is the best way to build trust, demonstrate transparency and avert miscommunications or misunderstandings. By developing the ‘Art of Listening,’ you will improve collegial and customer relationships, you are more likely to close a deal, keep a client, gain a customer, or land a job!