Typically, communication skills training is focused around improving our speaking and presentation skills, but improving how we listen to information is just as important. Listening plays a major part in effective communication, how we listen and what we choose to listen to has a big impact on what we do with any information which is conveyed to us. Studies have shown that on average we only absorb about 25-50% of what we hear during a conversation or presentation, meaning that we don’t fully hear and often misunderstand the information which is being conveyed. The way to improve listening skills and become better listeners lies in a communication practice known as Active Listening.
Active Listening is a process of communication which involves actively paying attention to the people who are talking to us in order to fully understand the messages which they are sending, not just the individual words. Training and developing communication and listening skills in this way reduces the chance of conflict and helps minimise the effects and occurrences of miscommunication. Active Listening is a conscious process and there are 5 ways to develop and engage it:
1. Show that you are listening – use body language and encouraging gestures to show the speaker that you are listening to what they are saying, and more importantly are interested in what they are saying. An active listener maintains eye contact with the speaker and pays attention to the non-verbal cues such as tone of voice and emotion which are often missed.
2. Pay attention – paying attention to the speaker and the messages that they are communicating is a great way to activate Active Listening. It’s important during any form of conversation or presentation to not get distracted by surroundings or to focus too much on any resonating words and phrases. Active listeners give the speaker their undivided attention in order to acknowledge the unspoken messages which are being communicated.
3. Hold judgement – thanks to our own personal beliefs and opinions words and the way that they are spoken affect us all differently. During any conversational or presentation process it is important to suspend your personal beliefs and hold back on judgements to ensure that messages are being fully conveyed. To prevent misunderstandings and conflict the practice of Active Listening encourages the unbiased evaluation of any form of verbal communication, regardless of the subject matter.
4. Give feedback – although you are required to hold back on your personal judgements, sometimes information which is being conveyed is distorted by these judgements. As an active listener you need to fully understand the information which is being communicated to you, and sometimes it is necessary to provide feedback to clarify meanings and expand your understanding. Feedback is also a way of showing the speaker that you understand what is being said to you, by paraphrasing what you have heard you acknowledge your own understanding of the subject and provide the chance for any miscommunication to be corrected.
5. Give appropriate responses – nothing gain be gained from interrupting and attacking the people that are verbally communicating with you. Any responses that you provide during a communication process need to be appropriate and relevant to the individual situation. Inappropriate responses and interruptions only block the flow of information and encourage conflict and misunderstanding.
Active Listening is a practice which fosters respect for the people who are communicating with us, and this respect is reflected in our choice of response.
Active Listening is an effective communication skills training practice which has a beneficial impact on practitioners' personal and professional lives. Unlike many other communication skills training programmes, programmes which are focused on developing Active Listening are suitable for everyone regardless of their status, age and profession.
Posted by: - Angela Smythe,
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