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Most of us consider ourselves to be good listeners, but how often do we really listen to what other people are saying?
Poor listening skills can impact on your business and personal life leading to conflict, misunderstandings, relationship problems, losing customers and contracts, unhappy staff, increased costs and lower profitability.
What is good listening?
Listening is not just about hearing. It is when you truly understand the other person's point of view, what they are thinking, how they are feeling and how they see the world. Listening involves not only hearing, but also understanding what is said, giving feedback on what you have heard and using and interpreting the non-verbal aspects of communication i.e. vocal factors (pitch, tone and rhythm), eye contact, facial expressions, body postures and even silence.
What are the benefits of good listening?
When you display good listening skills the person you are listening to feels understood and valued and is more likely to be open and honest with you. By giving them the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings with you they can gain greater insight and make better choices. Good listening will result in better relationships, clearer communication and a happier and more successful business and personal life.
What are the barriers to good listening?
There are many barriers to listening including:
- You may have preconceptions or make assumptions about what the other person might say and should say.
- Your attention can be selective leading to bias in what you hear.
- You think faster than other people can talk and your attention can wander.
- You may be unable to ignore irrelevant information.
- The physical environment can contribute to poor listening e.g. other people's conversations and background distractions.
- You have not allowed enough time for the conversation.
- You may lack concentration because you are thinking of other things, planning what you want to say next or daydreaming.
What behaviours impede good listening?
As well as the barriers to listening above, you can interrupt your listening and the other person by:
- Interrupting when the other person is talking.
- Giving advice or offering solutions when the other person is talking.
- Using humour inappropriately.
- Reassuring or consoling the other person before they have finished speaking.
- Fidgeting or distracting the other person.
- Using emotionally laden language.
How can you improve your listening skills?
Here are some tips to help you improve your listening:
- Look interested in the other person and be alert.
- Concentrate on really listening to the other person, including what they are saying, how they are saying it and their body language.
- Minimise distractions.
- Be patient and do not interrupt
- Keep up with what the other person is saying and listen to the whole story.
- Allow the other person to be silent. They may be thinking or processing something internally.
- Provide clear feedback to show that you are listening e.g. nodding, agreeing and encouraging.
- Match the other person's body language, vocal factors, metaphors, use of language and emotional tone, so that they feel listened to, understood and appreciated.
- Try to understand what the person is actually saying, what they are thinking and what they are feeling.
- Use your intuition to try and understand what the other person is thinking and feeling but may not be actually saying.
- Do not be judgemental or opinionated.
- If you need to take notes ask first if this is okay and do it in a way that does not distract the other person.
- Analyse and reflect back what you have heard, by paraphrasing, repeating, asking open questions and clarifying.
- Summarise the key points of the conversation and ask the other person whether they agree with your summary.
- Notice if you are not properly listening so that you can quickly bring your attention back to the other person.
Author: Liz Makin
Published: June 2007
Makin It Happen has a range of personal development online courses to purchase, created by Liz Makin, including communication, resilience, time management, stress management and coaching. Liz Makin also provides personalised business coaching, business mentoring and stress management services to business owners, directors, managers and professionals.
Please call Liz on 01780 765270 or email Liz@makinithappen.co.uk
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