Listening is a technique for receiving and understanding information. Listening skills are critical to effective teamwork. Listening is one of our most important communication needs but it is the least developed skill. Effective listening requires an effort to understand the ideas and feelings, the other person is trying to communicate. An effective listener hears the content and emotion behind the message. Expert listening requires active behavior. It requires an effort. It requires attention to the person and the message. An active listener attends to not only what the person is saying, but also to gestures, posture, and vocal qualities. It means actively communicating that you are listening and trying to understand the other person. It requires discipline, concentration, and practice. Effective listening requires the following:
■ Let others convey their message.
■ Involve yourself in the message.
■ Summarize and paraphrase frequently.
■ Empathize with others' views.
■ Nurture active listening skills.
Let the other person convey his or her message without interrupting or forcing your own views. This is accomplished by letting the other person know you are interested in what they are communicating without displaying an opinion or judgment.
Involve yourself in the message by actively listening to what the other person is communicating. Establish and maintain an eye contact. Keep an alert posture. Look for verbal and nonverbal cues.
Summarize and paraphrase frequently to show an understanding of the message. By listening carefully and then rephrasing in your own words the content and feelings of the other person's message, the exact meaning of the message can be determined.
Ask questions to clarify points you do not understand. Points can be clarified by using open-ended questions. This type of question with an answer other than yes or no provides a more detailed explanation.
Understanding the other person's views is essential to effective listening. Set aside your opinions and judgments and place yourself in the other person's place. Show the other person you understand by requesting more information or by sharing a similar feeling or experience you've had and how you think it helps you understand the other person.
Nurture listening skills to improve communication. Listening skills must be practiced daily.
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We can all recall situations where we have utterly failed to listen to what someone else is saying. For various reasons, we are simply not taking in anything useful. How many times have you been introduced to a person by name only to not know what their name is thirty seconds later?