I recently attended a two-day conference for meeting planners on the subject of leadership and communication. While I learned many things during those two days, my biggest takeaway was the importance of leadership and communication through listening.
At the beginning of the section on communication, a segment of a speech by Tom Peters was played. Peters, a writer and business consultant, cites a survey that reports a doctor listens for a total of 18 seconds on average before interrupting their patients and giving their thoughts and suggestions. Peters then turns to ask us, the viewers, if we are “18-second listeners.” This question truly struck me. How many times have people come up to us to ask a question and before fully expressing their thoughts, we have our answer for them? An active listener allows for someone to share their concerns uninterrupted and helps the asker to work to find their own answers. A true leader encourages those around them to problem solve.
How does one become an active listener? The Forbes article 10 Steps To Effective Listening by Dianne Schilling had some great suggestions:
- Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
- Be attentive, but relaxed.
- Keep an open mind.
- Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
- Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”
- Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
- Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
- Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
- Give the speaker regular feedback.
- Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.
All of the above steps make you, the listener, more receptive to what the speaker is saying. When you actively listen to others around you, you will be surprised about how much you truly hear and learn.