Effective communication is the number one tool to succeed in any endeavor, said Les Brown, one of my favorite motivational speakers. He said that communication determines whether people vote for you; write you a check; invest in what you do; and buy your services and products.
Communication is the key to create and sustain relationships at home, work, and in the marketplace. Relationship without communication is a handgun without bullets. However, mastering communication is not an easy task. It takes to invest time and show some serious efforts. It also requires understanding that effective communication consists of the three most important triads: relating, connecting, and listening.
We should also know that effective communication isn’t a one-way street as many communication experts agree. It isn’t all about talking, oratory, and even convincing the other side. The two parties should come into concordance through coding and decoding the messages transmitted. As much as effective communication involves speaking, it also entails listening. The latter is the most important part of the equation. For that matter, communication without active listening is incomplete.
Therefore, as we communicate with our loved ones, co-workers, and partners, we should make sure to listen their side of the story too if our desire is to communicate our messages and also earn their trust. We need to listen their feedbacks, and also make sure to read their unexpressed questions, doubts, and concerns they may have. Without active listening, it is hard to pick these signals. That is why many relationships and partnerships have been ruined. When people are asked why their relationship failed, they say something like this: “He or she doesn’t listen to me”.
When we have an active listening skill, not only we succeed in communicating in a given instance, but also enable the relationship to continue. Once people see that we listen, they are encouraged to further continue relating with us. They consider us respectful and trustworthy persons. They trust us for their time. They also know that we care and love them. This is because listening is an expression of love. That is why Paul Tillich said: the first duty of love is listening.
Any ways, what is active listening? First, what active listening is not? It is not just giving our ears and nodding our head while the other person talks. It takes to give our whole being- our ears, mind, soul, and heart. We know that we have fully developed active listening, as Peter Drucker noted, when we listen “what isn’t being said”.
The challenge is why many of us fail to listen wholeheartedly? One or more of the following reasons may apply. We may be:
- Preoccupied with personal pressing and urgent matters. Rather than giving our full attention while the other person talks, we may think about issues that are on our plate.
- Absorbed by what we would reply as soon as the speaker finishes. Sometimes, we may not even wait until the person finishes his messages; we may interrupt, and make sure our points of views are heard.
- Engrossed with preconceived biases towards the person, his beliefs, or messages. When we have prejudice towards the speaker, chances are high that we may not listen what he has to say.
- Distracted by external factors. These factors could be related to the environment, the people around us, and/or the way the speaker is dressed or his styles, and movements. We engage our eyes and divert our attention towards those things that are nothing to do with the message the other person is trying to extend. We criticize silently how the place should be organized; the person is dressed, behaved, and acted than listening what he is saying.
- Engaged with our emotion than heart. The moment we hear some offending terms or ideas, or disagree with the speaker; we may be caught up with disagreeing spirit, and stop listening the reminder of the talk. We cannot wait to react angrily or leave the conversation.
The question is how can we discipline ourselves and start to listen actively?
- First, we need to embrace listening as the key ingredient for effective communication.
- We should also train ourselves to listen consciously. Listening hasn’t always been my strong suit. These days, I train myself consciously to listen until the other person finishes his/her thoughts. I train myself to ask clarifications and follow-up questions before making statements. Thus far, I have got some results but I am still working on it.
- Join organizations like Toastmasters that give you chances to improve your communication, and listening skills.
- Get feedback from people around you to know whether you listen to them.