Listening is equally as important with your patients as it with your team members, your family, and friends. Mastering the act of listening can dramatically improve your communication skills and strengthen your relationships.
Listening should not be confused with hearing. Yes, it’s simple to hear what someone has to say, but are you opening your mind and truly listening?
Let’s start with the physical elements of listening. A great way to show that you’re listening is to show it with your body language. It’s easy to discount the effects of body language on a conversation, but small habits can quickly derail listening and hurt relationships. When you’re in a conversation with someone, take a quick moment to do a scan of your body language:
- Maintain eye contact
- Sit or stand with your feet and body facing the person
- Do not sit behind a computer or have a physical barrier between you and the person
- Take headphones out of your ears
- Put your phone in your pocket or out of sight
These things are simple, but crucial for ensuring the other person feels heard and respected in a conversation.
Removing Listening Blocks:
Next, consider what is preventing you from listening. Here are some of the most common listening blocks to avoid:
- Rehearsing – Instead of listening, it’s easy to start rehearsing what you’re going to say next and how you’re going to respond. But, when people rehearse, most of what the person is saying is missed.
- Dreaming – It’s also common to get distracted by daydreaming. Maybe your attention drifts to that never-ending to-do list. But, you’re thinking about anything other than the conversation, and it can hurt the relationship.
- Judging – If you’ve pre-judged a person, you may be less likely to listen to what they have to say. For example, if you’ve judged that a person is incompetent, you're unlikely to listen. A great tactic to overcome this block is to pretend the person speaking is your best friend and listen to them with the openness and lack of judgement that you would from that trusted friend. Things can sound different when you change the lens through which you’re listening.
- Comparing – Instead of listening, you may find that you’re caught in comparison. If you’re comparing yourself to the person you’re speaking to (their intelligence, physical attractiveness, confidence, emotional intelligence, etc.), then you really aren’t listening to them. If you catch yourself slipping into this common habit, simply redirect your attention back to the conversation.
- Advising – It’s common for leaders to jump straight into problem solving before listening to the whole story. But, in formulating your solution in your head, you're likely missing out on other critical pieces of the puzzle. Be sure to listen fully before offering advice or answers.
- Placating – Placating may seem like listening on the surface. Someone is attempting to be nice, offering support, and responding positively, but they aren’t actually listening. If you’re too agreeable to everything being said, you risk missing what’s being shared.
- Sparring – Do you find that you’re quick to argue, disagree, or debate in certain conversations or with certain people? Sparring can damage relationships if left unchecked because the focus is on proving another person wrong before they have finished talking. If you find yourself sparring, take a quick moment to reset and try to stay open to what is being said.
Everybody has listening blocks at times. Consider which of these blocks you struggle with the most and strategize ways to overcome them. Work on removing those blocks and you’ll be amazed to find what you can learn from a conversation.
Once you’ve addressed your listening blocks, be sure to practice active listening techniques. Being an active listener in a conversation demonstrates that you’re engaged and understanding what is being said.
Best practices include:
- Responding with nods and acknowledgements
- Asking questions to further clarifying what you’re hearing
- Paraphrasing what you’ve heard to prove you understand
The highest form of listening is listening with a willingness to learn or even change your own opinion.
The most important part of listening is staying open to the possibility that the idea being presented may be a great one, potentially better than the current approach. It’s not always easy, but following these physical listening techniques, overcoming your listening blocks, and opening your mind to what is being shared will allow you to absorb the information.
Be ready and willing to change your perspective. That readiness will allow you to not only hear, but to truly listen.