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Do we know how to listen?

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Knowing how to listen is a skill that is not acquired automatically.  It requires learning, effort, and continuous practice.

It is true that nowadays it can be difficult to find time to listen to others, especially at work, but “active” listening can have a very positive effect on both our work and personal relationships.

In our work relationships, we normally concentrate more on what we are going to answer than on listening to a colleague, thereby losing the essence of communication, which is to share ideas.

What does active listening mean?

“Active” listening not only means paying attention to what we are being told, but also includes the feelings, ideas or thoughts that underlie what we are being told.  We should convey, through our gestures and words, that we are listening and are interested in what we are being told.

Practice active listening at work and elsewhere

• Make a conscious effort to listen rather than simply hearing the words that are being spoken.

• Give your undivided attention to the person who is speaking to you, without doing anything else at the same time.

• Identify the message content of what you are being told with words and gestures.

• Identify the emotional state of the person speaking to you and show this with gestures or words, for example “Are you worried about what has happened”?

• Maintain steady visual contact.

• Your posture should show that you are interested.  If you are seated, lean slightly forward.

• Nod your head to indicate that you are listening to what is being said.

• Use expressions such as “I see”, “yes”, “really”, “of course”, “mm”, etc.

• You can repeat what the other person has said, using the key words or summarising the main points of the conversation. This will avoid any misunderstanding and will confirm to the speaker that you have been listening. 

• Ask questions and request relevant explanations.

You should never….

• Become distracted and think of other things.

• Give answers to the other person’s problem before he/she has finished speaking.

• Interrupt the speaker.

• Compare what is happening to the speaker with your own experience.

• Reject feelings: “There is no reason for you to feel that way”. 

• Be judgemental and criticise.

• Predict what the speaker is going to say.

• Offer advice when you have not been asked to do so.

Remember that to grow professionally and be an active work team member you must listen to other people’s ideas even though you do not initially agree with these.  Your colleagues can give you ideas that provide you with new viewpoints.

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