Though most of us believe an effective communicator is someone who speak persuasively, mastering the art of listening – a skill anyone can develop but few do – is perhaps the most essential element in oral communications. Listening, by the way, is not the same as hearing. Most of us have no problem hearing. It’s listening to what we hear that we don’t always do well.
Since we learn more by listening than we do by talking, let me share with you 10 quick rules certain to make you a better – and smarter – listener?
Listening goes on in all types of environments. The most common is perhaps our daily one-on-one conversations with spouses, friends, family members and fellow workers. Those instances are followed quickly by what we hear while watching television. In truth, we hear words almost everywhere we go. Yet we don’t always listen, and seldom listen well. While the sources of the words we hear will vary, the rules for better listening remain essentially the same.
In many cases there can be barriers to good listening – distractions, if you prefer… Some are physical, such as lack of sleep or a loss of the ability to hear. Others can be environmental, including noise, temperature, uncomfortable seating, even poor acoustics in the room.
The 10 rules that follow apply regardless of such barriers. Most of them – actually eight of the 10 – apply to the process of listening. The last two apply to what goes on once the listening has taken place. Give these rules a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much – and how quickly – they a can improve your listening skills.
1. When possible, take control of your listening environment.
2. Despite distractions, concentrate on what’s being said.
3. Focus early on the “central idea.”
4. Determine what that central idea mean to you.
5. Overlook any speaker eccentricities or delivery errors.
6. Listen “between the words” for attitude, tone, level of conviction.
7. Concentrate on what is being said rather than how you are tempted to respond.
8. Take careful, organized notes, even if they’re only mental notes.
9. Mentally summarize what was said, what its impact is or may become.
10. Judge the message only after you completely understand it.
The value of improving your listening skills is that you will hear what it is that’s actually being said. No, not just the words, but the meanings behind them, their implications, their intent. Once you’re able to identify the meaning, implications and the intentions of what you hear, your life at work, at home and at play will be far more rewarding. And you’ll be a much smarter, more effective total communicator.