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Easy Tips for Becoming a Better Listener

March 10, 2021 9:36 pm

The Power of Participation & Engagement: The Five Core Facilitator Best Practices Series (Stay Neutral | Listen Actively | Ask Questions | Paraphrase | Summarize)

If you’re like many of our clients, you’re probably struggling to achieve the same level of engagement, participation and collaboration in your virtual meetings as you did with in-person meetings. How you manage yourself in the facilitator role will have a significant impact on meeting success. A well-run meeting creates alignment, buy-in, and motivates a group to action whereas poorly run meetings lead to frustration, distraction and disengaged staff. Never before has it been more important to tap into the key facilitator best practices to foster an engaged, safe, and inviting virtual environment. This is the second in our series exploring Facilitation First’s five core facilitator best practices.

Easy Tips for Becoming a Better Listener

The #1 problem with communication between 2 or more people in or outside of the workplace tends to be a lack of ‘active’ listening. We see this played out in meetings when people:

  • interrupt one another
  • respond totally off-topic
  • multi-task during a conversation
  • ask questions for information that has already been stated
  • falsely nod or use encouragers (I know what you mean!) to suggest they heard what the speaker is saying, but really the listener wasn’t present
  • show no eye contact or are looking elsewhere

Our ability to actively listen and demonstrate that we really hear what is being said, encourages the speaker to continue speaking and to want to engage with us. Ultimately we all want to ‘feel heard’. When we’re heard we feel validated that what we’re saying is interesting or important to the other individual(s). We also sense indirectly and perhaps unconsciously that “I trust this person who listens”. A study conducted in 2014[1] identified that people receiving ‘active’ listening responses felt more understood than participants who received either advice or simple acknowledgements. The research suggests that the predictability of our ability to actively listen increases our ability to develop key relationships that ultimately reward us in the future:

Every relationship begins with a first encounter. In first encounters people also work to create a favorable first impression and form accurate impressions of others. These first impressions are particularly important because they shape future interactions and can determine whether interactions will occur in the future. The rewards realized from early enjoyable conversations lay the foundation for predictions of rewards and costs in the future. The study goes on to say … effective listeners generally project more positive impressions than ineffective listeners.

True active listening depends on a combination of behaviours that include but are not limited to:

  • Using verbal encouragers (Uh-huh, mm-hmm, yep, I get it,) and/or non-verbal encouragers (eye contact, showing similar posture, shaking your head to agree/disagree, etc.)
  • Asking questions that help to clarify what the speaker is saying, to go deeper or wider
  • Repeating back in our own words what we heard the speaker say (paraphrasing) to clarify/articulate their intention, and/or validate what we heard, and/or enable them to correct us
  • Refraining from judgement or critique as to what the person said
  • Demonstrating empathy (I can understand why you might feel that way … I’ve experienced a similar situation,)
  • Noting when a speaker’s verbal comments do not match their non-verbal actions (e.g. stating a mixed message)

Active listening doesn’t mean we remain neutral and/or have no opinion or judgement on a topic. It means that before we state our opinion we acknowledge and strive to understand what a person has said before we seek to be understood. In fact, in any communication, our ability to really understand others first before we give our input creates the possibility of a more concise and targeted conversation.

The use of actively listening is even more critical during consensus building or in conflict situations where 2 or more parties are in disagreement. In a consensus building situation active listening ensures that all options are heard and understood before moving to make the decision. In conflict resolution, actively listening to what the other party’s concerns are can effectively lessen the escalation of conflict since the other party, regardless of their issue with you, is feeling heard.

Additional tips for active listening:

  • Should you know you’re engaging in an important conversation, clear your mind, focus on your breath and calm yourself for a few minutes before entering
  • To start the conversation ensure up front you and the other person(s) understand and agree to the purpose for the dialogue (e.g. why are we here?) and what outcome(s) is/are expected (e.g. what are we hoping to achieve by the end of this discussion?)
  • Ensure few distractions are occurring within your environment (e.g. noise, phones, televisions, other people talking, etc.)
  • If you feel someone is giving a mixed message, it’s important to ask them to tell you more in order to help clarify where they’re coming from. If a speaker questions why you’re asking for more clarity state: I’m noticing that when you said you were excited about X you appeared hesitant. Was I reading you right?
  • Encourage everyone to put their phone on mute to allow for 100% focus
  • Determine the amount of time people have to speak and ensure you stick to the timing agreed

Our ability to actively listen is critical to effective communication. Taking the time to actively listen from the outset may mean less time down the road for correcting misinterpretations or having to go back for additional details that were not discussed in the first place. It helps to build consensus and reduce the potential for escalated conflict. It means building relationships that could serve greater benefits for all involved down the road!

[1] Harry Weger Jr., Gina Castle Bell, Elizabeth M. Minei & Melissa C. Robinson (2014) The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions, International Journal of Listening, 28:1, 13-31, DOI: 10.1080/10904018.2013.813234

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