Friday, 5 June 2015

Communication: You May Be Talking But Am I Listening?

One of the key issues we are requested to deal with on our Communication courses is listening and responding skills.

More problems arise because of poor listening skills than nearly anything else. It’s astonishing how badly people listen to each other, or if they do listen they filter the information through their own biases, limiting beliefs, assumptions and expectations.

One common thing that happens is once someone gets the gist of what they think the other person is saying they are busy in their heads crafting a response before the other person has even finished talking.

We all do it!

We’re often so impatient to get our own point of view across that we trample all over what’s being said.

How many meetings have you been to where people talk over each other, interrupt, shout to make themselves heard, argue because they’ve got the wrong end of the stick?  Maybe the questions should be how many meetings have you been to where none of those things has happened??

What’s ironic is the number of times I’ve heard parents tell their children that it’s rude to interrupt, that they need to wait till ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’ is finished talking. Somehow we all forget those lessons as we get older and don’t always let other people have their full say because we’re so anxious to have our own.

No wonder there are sensible Native American tribes who use a ‘Talking Stick’ so that tribe members get a chance to speak and be heard without the mad rush by others to elbow their way in.  This also means that shy people who may be reticent about speaking their minds get a chance to be heard as well.

So how do we achieve the same results as the Talking Stick?  We know that good listening and responding skills can transform the way communication happens between people.

My first recommendation is that you simply observe how much you and other people interrupt, jump in, talk over others etc.; observe how much talking space you and other people take up.  Are you sharing the invisible ‘talking stick’ so that everyone gets a chance to add their input?  Or are you hogging the stick or even beating other people with it!

After you’ve observed and taken note of what you and others do, especially if there are set patterns in meetings, it’s now time to exhibit restraint. See what it takes to let people have their full say; see what it feels like to only consider your response after the other person has finished, rather than in the middle of their talking.

In terms of responding, one great tip is to begin by acknowledging what the other person has said, even if you don’t agree with it.  Something along the lines of, “I think Phil made an interesting point.  I’m not sure I agree with it entirely and here’s why….” 

Acknowledging other people’s contributions makes it clear you have been listening; it also makes you come across as fair and open.

Even just pausing before you speak once you’ve got people’s attention is a great way of coming across as thoughtful and considerate.

The great thing about improving your listening and responding skills is that it only takes a couple of small tweaks to make a significant difference. 

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Communication courses with Impact Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

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