Active listening is a way of listening to another person that improves mutual understanding. Often when people talk to each other, they don’t listen attentively. Active listening means, as the name suggests, fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ what the other person is saying.
The educationalist Edgar Dale purported that we only remember around 20% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your colleagues, suppliers or customers you usually aren't ‘getting’ the whole message. You hope the important parts of what they are saying are captured but what if they're not?
There are five key active listening techniques.
1. Pay attentionIt seems obvious but give the speaker your undivided attention — and recognise that non-verbal communication also ‘speaks’ just as loudly.
2. Show that you are listeningUse your own body language and gestures to convey your attention by nodding and smiling and encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like “yes” and “go on”.
3. Provide feedback and summariseReflect what has been said by paraphrasing. "What I'm hearing is…" and "Sounds like you are saying…" are great ways to summarise, clarify and reflect back.
4. Defer judgementInterrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message. Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.
5. Respond appropriatelyActive listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break but the benefits of really understanding what people are saying speak for themselves.
At OSP, we take time to listen to our clients’ goals and objectives — so give us a call to talk though your next project!