Connect in Ways That Matter

PJ Dunn - Thursday, September 29, 2016

Connect in Ways That Matter

3 Tips for Becoming an Active Listener

Superb communication skills should never be underestimated as they help us create and sustain relationships, especially over time. We like, love, and trust those people who seem to ‘know what to say’ at crucial times in our relationships, whether professional or personal.

The truth is that those with great communication skills have the greatest amount of success. Research confirms the importance of communication-related skills, including working on teams, teaching others, serving customers, leading, negotiating, working with cultural diversity, interviewing, listening, conducting meetings, and resolving conflicts.

There is one major tool that almost every honest leader will admit deficiency in – listening. In today’s world of always-on technology, you could argue that listening needs to be an ‘active’ endeavor. It often seems like we have become human ‘doings’ rather than human ‘beings.’ Listening sometimes feels too static or passive, so perhaps we need to view it more in dynamic terms, turning listening into something active.

Many conversations leave people feeling like they were dancing with someone with two left feet. It’s awkward and toes get stepped on, particularly when one party is just waiting to respond rather than listening to understand both the sentiment of the words and the emotional tone in which they are presented.

So how do we become better dancers in the conversations of life? The first step starts with recognizing all the cues that are being given when someone opens up to you. What are the facial expressions? How does the tone sound? Does the body language match the audible words? Great leaders have a sense of what is not being said and are able to probe deeper. Nine times out of ten, great leaders will acknowledge the feelings attached to the conversation, not just the words.

Step two is processing what you just heard before you rush to respond. Effective communicators will follow the progression of the speaker and ask clarifying questions when the meaning or subject becomes unclear. When dealing with a venter for example, you will likely have to steer them back to their original point. At other times, when dealing with those who are frugal with their words, you may have to probe a bit more. The goal here is to fully process the information offered, regardless of how it comes to you. Then, you can respond appropriately.

And finally step three, effective communicators will respond in such a way that their feedback will be received. The key is to summarize what you’ve just heard and ask for clarification, particularly if you sense – through facial expression or body language — that you didn’t get it right. When a listener can demonstrate to the speaker that what they said was both heard and considered, it makes it easier for the listener to engage in the speaker's point of view. In fact, the speaker may want to engage with you further because at that moment, you broke through and connected where others didn’t.

After all, isn’t that what we wanted in the first place? To be able to break through and engage meaningfully in conversation, particularly when there is dissension. Employ these tips and watch your conversations become enjoyable again, regardless of the subject matter.

PJ Dunn C.C.P. is Springboard Consulting’s Professional Development Director. Described as a “critical thinker with a heart for human flourishing,” he inspires executives and transitioning professionals on how to polish their natural strengths while minimizing weaknesses. He is energized by helping leaders and companies discover the patterns that are serving them and the tendencies that are not. To learn more and hear from PJ, visit our Workshops & Webinars page to register for an upcoming session.

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