Not knowing how to listen effectively can waste time, cause stress, and generate costly communication problems. But there’s more to effective listening than meets the ear. It’s hard work. It requires an active participation in the communication process. It takes effort and practice.
It requires that we break habits that have been forming since childhood. One such habit is interrupting the speaker. Many of us are impatient. Some of us can’t even stand pauses. We want to rush in with more words. Even when we’re not speaking, we’re not necessarily listening. We’re rehearsing what we’re going to say, once it’s our turn.
Don’t be a passive listener. Be an active listener. Lean forward to demonstrate your interest in the speaker. Establish eye contact. Resist the temptation to let your eyes wander or glance at your watch. Devote full attention to the speaker. If you’re genuinely interested in people, listening is a lot easier.
We can speak at about 125 words per minute but we can listen at least four times as fast. With all this spare time to kill, our mind wanders, daydreams, goes on little mental excursions, and by the time it returns we have missed something. Reluctant to admit we were not listening, we guess – and frequently misinterpret what was said.
The secret is to stay with the speaker, and use the spare time by reviewing and summarizing what is being said. Listen between the lines, observe those non-verbal gestures, and evaluate the points being made, but stick with the speaker. Resist the urge to interrupt or to start formulating your own reply. Listening is a skill that can be developed through practice. And it can also save time.