How to Become a Model Listener

Have you heard? Effective listening skills are the foundation for better communication, decision making, and teamwork, as well as reduced absenteeism, turnover, and conflict. Yet studies show people remember only half of what they hear, even moments after they’ve heard it. That’s because listening and hearing are not one and the same. And while we may be born with the ability to hear, the ability to listen is a skill that must be developed.

It’s ok to admit it. Listening—real, active listening—isn’t always easy. Obstacles get in the way, from external barriers such as noise levels, mannerisms, and interruptions to internal barriers such as anxiety, boredom, and a lack of interest. Not to mention, listening skills involve both visible and invisible behaviors. Sure, it may be easy to control one’s facial expressions and gestures, but it’s far more difficult to learn the less tangible skills of concentration and maintaining an open mind.

Staying Focused

Humans can speak at a rate of 120-150 words per minute, yet we listen at a rate almost three times faster. But instead of using the extra “time” to process a message, people often let their minds wander.

Staying Focused is a primarily invisible behavior that requires placing attention on the speaker.

Behaviors to Practice

Prepare

Before entering into a conversation, make a conscious effort to clear the mind of other thoughts, worries, and concerns. Anticipating a potential preoccupation is a great first step toward prevention.

Monitor

As a conversation progresses, use self-awareness to recognize when mental concentration has strayed from the speaker.

Correct

Realize when lapses occur and exercise self-discipline to abandon daydreams or eliminate competing thoughts in order to pay attention to the speaker.

Ways to Improve Staying Focused

  • Mentally prepare to listen
  • Stow away troubles
  • Focus on the present
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Approach listening as a learning opportunity
  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker
  • Be aware of trigger words and topics

Capturing the Message

This dimension involves building a complete and accurate understanding of the speaker’s message. Because it encompasses actions that occur in the mind as well as verbal interactions, Capturing the Message straddles both the invisible and visible sections of The Listening Model.

Behaviors to Practice

Be open-minded

Maintain a state of mental neutrality by putting aside assumptions, prejudices, and biases. Delay judgment until the speaker has had the opportunity to fully deliver the intended message.

Think

Mentally interact with the content of the speaker’s message. Make sense of what is being said by extracting the main ideas. It is also important to distinguish thinking about the message from evaluating the message.

Clarify

Ask questions, request more information, and reiterate key points. It’s the best defense against leaving a conversation with an inaccurate interpretation.

Confirm

Check for understanding. Whether a simple summary suffices or a full review is needed, asking for confirmation is an excellent way to avoid misunderstandings.

 Ways to Improve Capturing the Message

  • Humanize the speaker
  • Take strategic notes
  • Don’t miss the forest for the trees
  • Practice asking different kinds of questions
  • Create comprehension checkpoints

Helping the Speaker

Helping the Speaker is the golden rule of listening: listen unto others as you would like to be listened to. Because it involves outward behaviors, this dimension falls primarily within the visible part of The Listening Model.

Behaviors to Practice

Screen

Avoid distracting verbal comments such as interruptions, finishing the speaker’s sentences, and interjecting with autopilot responses.

Refrain

Steer clear of distracting nonverbal actions as well, including fidgeting, doodling, slumping, and staring.

Respond

Offer verbal encouragement and support. This includes genuine affirmations and coming to the aid of speakers who have been interrupted or have lost their train of thought.

Assist

Provide the speaker with nonverbal encouragement and support such as looking alert, sitting up straight, maintaining eye contact, and responding with appropriate facial expressions.

Ways to Improve Helping the Speaker

  • Take a breath before interrupting
  • Think from the speaker’s perspective
  • Actively manage nonverbal cues
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Place the ego on hold
  • Prepare to be tested

Source: Learning to Listen, Third Edition.

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