We spend a lot of time honing our presentation skills, often completely ignoring the art of listening, which is considered an equally important component of fruitful conversation. It involves more than just hearing; it also entails analyzing and comprehending what you have heard and seen, literally living it through and responding. EPAM coach Dmytro Malinochka explains what prevents us from being attentive listeners, how to get along with others, and how to avoid missing important information.
At EPAM University we love facts. According to the findings of a 2014 study involving more than 100 participants, communicating with people who actively listen to us, we feel as though we are understood better. As a result, the conversation is more meaningful, and our interlocutors appear more socially appealing to us. Conversely, we only pick up a portion of information, perceiving the rest as white noise, if we do not actively listen to others and instead concentrate on something of our own during a conversation. Another survey of 8,000 people, the majority of whom were doctors, teachers, military personnel, and civil servants, discovered that no matter how good listeners we think we are, we only perceive 25% of what we hear. So, how do you take in 100% of the information?
It is what active listening is for. We’ll explain how to master it, but first, let's figure out what’s keeping us from being perfect listeners.
What influences our ability to understand and remember what we hear? There can be several reasons for this:
- External factors in your environment that cause interference including the noise of repairs or air conditioning, poor connection, a child crying, or nearby conversations.
- The speaker’s behavior or traits like accent, speech defects, or ambiguous or convoluted formulation of their thoughts; on the other hand, you as a listener may be hindered by fatigue, hunger or thirst, multitasking, your attitudes towards information, or the need to concentrate on your response.
- The content of the message — too much information, a tedious or complex subject, etc.
The communication process will significantly improve if you monitor, recognize, and, if possible, remove these barriers.
“Do you understand me?” or 5 signs of an ideal listener
The hieroglyph above best describes a comprehensive approach to the listening process. Like other Chinese characters denoting complex concepts, it consists of several “simple” word characters.
The hieroglyph “to listen” implies that effective communication is possible when your ears and eyes are engaged in the process, and your attention, thoughts, and feelings are focused on what you hear. What does each element mean in more detail?
To hear means:
- Allow the interlocutor to finish the thought.
- Listen to your partner instead of preparing answers in your head
- Pause and reflect on what you heard.
To see means:
- Maintain eye contact.
- Note the body language and gestures.
To think means:
- Ask questions: open-ended questions “Who?’, “What?”, “Where?”, “When?”, yes-no questions, questions for clarification “Can you repeat…?”, “Do you mean...?”.
- Refrain from making assumptions about other people based on your biases and experiences rather than facts. Make sure you and the other person are on the same page.
- Repeat, paraphrase, and summarize what you hear.
- Reframe the statement you heard. The most well-known example involves a glass of water that is simultaneously half full and half empty. Or here is a more up-to-date one: “We must submit the project in three hours. — That means we have three hours.” Although the fact has not changed, the message's emphasis has.
To be present (attentive) means:
- Take notes.
- Use open gestures.
- Nod and agree. This way, you will demonstrate to the interlocutor that you hear them. For example, you can use encouraging phrases, like “Yes, of course!”, “Indeed!”, “Sounds good!”, and “That’s interesting!”, etc.
To feel means:
- Practice empathy; try to understand someone else's point of view and emotions. For example: “It seems that you are angry.”, “Looks like it makes you happy/worries you.”, etc.
- Develop your self-awareness. That is, observe others' emotions without experiencing them yourself, but rather pay attention to changes in your state hearing about those emotions evoke.
- Provide feedback and interpret feelings as well as information. For instance: “You look pleased. Any good news?”
Focusing is central to the hieroglyph, both literally and metaphorically:) This dash indicates that we must listen with undivided attention and concentration. Because we think much faster than we speak, we tend to "autocomplete" sentences with our guesses and assumptions. We must silence all internal chatter and focus on the other person's words to listen effectively.
The core rule of any communication is to understand its purpose. Knowing what information you need to obtain, what you need to confirm, and what tasks you need to finish will help make the conversation productive. And don't forget to outline the purpose clearly at the start of the conversation.
How to improve your listening skills in a week
Monday | Use your ears
Observe the interlocutor's intonations, pitch, speed, pauses, and accents. What from what you hear clarifies the meaning of the words?
Tuesday | Use your eyes
Observe the interlocutor's facial expressions, body language, posture, and gestures. What do you see that makes the information clearer to you?
Wednesday | Use your mind
Which approach to listening do you prefer: critical and analytical or objective and empathic? Do you “switch” between approaches depending on the person you are talking to? Mark how your mind analyzes the information it receives.
Thursday | Use your heart
Tune in to the emotions the interlocutor is showing while simultaneously employing all the senses you have trained the previous days.
Friday | Undivided attention
Finally, combine all the learned approaches — you should be able to give the person your full, undivided attention.