One of the very first things that I teach as a public speaking coach has nothing to do with speaking. It has everything to do with listening. When communicating with others it is not all about what you have to say. Listening to the person or persons trying communicating with you is very important. Not only do you need to listen but you need to REALLY listen. This is called Active Listening. This type of listening requires some work on your part. There are some tips to help you become a better active listener.
The first thing is not just to listen but to listen well. Really engage yourself in listening to what the person speaking has to say. This is not the time to let your mind wander. Focus on the words they are saying and try to understand what they really mean. This takes practice but do not be afraid to ask questions when you need points clarified. Of course, you should wait and ask these questions after they are done speaking.
It is also important that the person who is speaking to you knows you are listening. Maintain eye contact with the person and use appropriate body language to help convey that you are listening. One example of this is when you are seated you can lean forward slightly toward the individual speaking. Maintain a relaxed but attentive posture and do not interrupt unless they ask you a direct question.
There are several benefits to using this type of communication:
- It helps the person know you are listening breaking defenses and saving time
- It helps the speaker feel heard and thus more willing to talk
- It can reduces negative emotions allowing other communication blocks to be overcome
Active listening is a skill that every effective communicator should learn and practice. It is often difficult when you feel strongly about something to slow down and listen to another’s opinion, especially when it is different from your own. This being said, if you’re truly listening to what another person thinks you may find that a solution to the problem may be reached by a true compromise. Plus, Active Listening may help the person you are talking with consider actively listening to you as well.
Sonja Stetzler is a public speaking coach in Charlotte NC. She promotes active listening as a means to more effective connecting when dealing with others.