Do I Hear You or Do I Hear Me?

For those of us who are engaged in working with people, and most of us are in some way or another, active listening is an important and very necessary skill.  There are countless examples of situations that have gone wrong from business deals to personal relationships to international relations, and all due to the failure of the parties to not pay attention and hear what was being said.

Many of us say we are active listeners, but are we?  Do we enter a communication moment with an open mind, ready to hear what will be said, or do we come with preconceived ideas or a cluttered mind?  I will self-report that although I practice active listening, there are times when I fail; especially if the topic is an emotionally charged one or if I have a lot of commitments whirling about.

Active listening is an art form that is developed by energetic practice and with self-awareness.  You have to focus to hear what is being said as well as to understand what is being said.  How to actively listen is the essential discussion and there are many blueprints available for what an active listener should do.  I like the approach taken by Dr. Fred Kofman[1] in his 7+1 Points of Active Listening.  Dr. Kofman suggests that the active listener do the following: [Comments after bold prompts are mine.]

Listen. – To do this, you have to close down your monkey mind and put aside biases.  You have to be present in the moment.

Focus. –  Look at the speaker.  Put away all digital distractions and hear what is being said.

Be quiet. –  Don’t interrupt no matter how tempting it is to do so.

Encourage. – This is an almost non-verbal exercise.  You can offer the occasional “ummm,” but most of the encouragement is through body language and head nods.

Summarize. Play back the speaker’s essential point(s).  You do not have to agree with them, but by capsulizing what has been said, you validate the speaker.

Check. Ask the speaker if you got the point being made, and, if not, ask for a clarification.

Validate. Acknowledge the speaker has a point to be considered.  On the other side of the coin, if you do not quite understand what the point is, ask for more information or a restatement.

Inquire. This is where you find a call to action, if there is one.  What is it that the speaker wants you to take away and do?

These steps are simple, not easy. They require conscious effort, especially if the stakes are high. They also require discipline. It only takes one misspoken comment to send a productive engagement into a disastrous tailspin.

As I noted earlier, Dr. Kaufman is but one of many who offer advice on active listening.  I also suggest that you look at comments in the following links to widen your perspective.

Active Listening – Communications Skills Training by Mind Tools

Active Listening by Study Guides and Strategies

Active Listening by U.S. Department of State

Active Listening by Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson [Note: This is a detailed white paper, so it will take some time to read.]

[1] Fred Kofman, Ph.D. is the co-founder and President of Axialent, an international consulting company in the areas of leadership and organizational learning.

Posted in: Organizing for Success

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