Effective listening is essential in all industries and environments. Active listening is often recommended as a way to improve your listening skills. As it turns out, however, listening actively is only the first step if you want to really understand others and communicate effectively with them. Let's look at why it's essential to be a good listener and why it's important to go beyond just active listening.
Benefits of Effective Listening
Learning how to listen more effectively has advantages in almost any situation.
- Greater productivity. Listening contributes to efficiency and prevents errors due to miscommunication.
- Better customer service. Customers want to feel like you are listening to their needs and concerns. How well you listen has a large impact on whether they return and what kind of feedback they leave for you.
- Enhanced safety. As the Harvard School of Public Health reports, effective listening improves overall leadership qualities.
- A more harmonious work environment. Listening well contributes to trust and better teamwork.
Many educators, business leaders, and mental health professionals recommend active listening as a way to improve communications. This is a good starting point for developing better listening skills. It's not, however, the final answer.
What is Active Listening?
In everyday life, it's common to only listen to others in a casual manner. That's why we often forget what we hear almost immediately after the moment passes. Being an active listener means consciously paying attention to what we hear. One of the challenges of modern life is that people are often multi-tasking, which compromises the quality of our listening. For example, you can't give your full attention to a conversation if you're texting on your phone or browsing the internet. Even if you're not actually engaged in multiple tasks, however, that doesn't mean you're actively listening. Your mind might be elsewhere.
There are several techniques that can help you focus fully on the person you're talking to and to show him or her that you're actively listening.
- When you're involved in an important conversation, avoid multitasking. If you're working on a report and texting, you're not going to be able to give your full attention to the person you're talking to.
- Focus fully on the speaker's words rather than planning what you're going to say.
- Use body language that shows you're paying attention. Lean forward and nod when appropriate.
- Summarize the speaker's points. This indicates you've been paying attention and gives him or her the chance to clarify if you've misunderstood anything.
Actively listening is a good starting point for opening up useful communications. However, if you want to be a truly good listener there's a lot more to learn as well.
Understanding the Different Listening Styles
While it's certainly helpful to listen more attentively and actively, it's also necessary to understand that, even when we're paying full attention, different people listen to and for different types of information. In order to become truly effective listeners, we need to develop self-awareness around our personal listening filters. One very effective tool that can help is the ECHO Listening Profile, which identifies your particular listening styles, or habits. As mentioned in previous blogs, one's listening style is based on habit, rather than anything hard-wired. Statistical research has identified four major listening habits which we outline below. Most people don't practice only one type of listening but combine several listening styles to varying degrees.
Analytical listening conjures up words like "analysis" and "analytics." Indeed, this listening style tends to be preoccupied with data and hard facts. Every team and organization needs people who ground their opinions in solid numbers. If you practice this style of listening, you don't have much patience for plans that aren't supported by research and data. On the other hand, you have to be careful not to get overly focused on a particular flaw.
Conceptual listeners are the dreamers and Big Idea people in an organization. They aren't limited by current realities or challenges and aren't afraid to consider possibilities. Other listening types may see them as impractical and unrealistic. However, they have a talent for making new connections and seeing solutions that others never consider. If you're a conceptual listener, you should give free rein to your imagination. At the same time, you may need to keep yourself grounded by keeping in mind data, budgetary limitations, and the specific demands of managers and clients.
Reflective listeners tend to go within and consult their own storehouse of knowledge and experience. If this is your style, you may not say much during a meeting or conversation, waiting until the end to provide feedback. You don't share half-baked ideas or speculations but wait until you have a fully-formed idea before speaking up. Reflective listeners often provide a high degree of competence and expertise to organizations. At the same time, they sometimes need to broaden their horizons and learn to consider ideas that are new to them.
Connective listeners are highly sensitive to the needs and beliefs of others. They are natural team players as they never fail to consider an idea's impact on others in the group. This is a valuable quality as the other listening styles tend to be more internally focused. If you're a connective listener, you may pick up subtle cues (such as body language) about what others are thinking. On the other hand, you may need to hone your objectivity as you may be more influenced by the speaker's personality than the merit of his or her ideas.
Understanding Listening Styles Make You a Better Listener
Identifying and making use of listening styles isn't an alternative to active listening but a way to become an even better listener. It's always useful to keep the basic guidelines we summarized above (e.g. avoid multitasking and give feedback to show you're paying attention). However, you can upgrade your listening skills even more by becoming self-aware of the kinds of information you tend to listen for, and, by extension, what you tend to ignore or tune out, then make a conscious shift to incorporate that back in. The next step in effective listening is identifying the other person's listening style. If you know, for example, that you're talking to someone for whom Analytical Listening plays a major role, you'll want to emphasize the data backing your proposal. With a Conceptual Listener, on the other hand, you'll want to focus more on the big picture.
When you realize that people naturally listen and process information in different ways, you can become more attuned to the people around you. Of course, it also helps when you better understand your own mode of listening as well.
ECHO Listening Intelligence has developed the first cognitive-based listening assessment that helps you identify your own listening habits and preferences. To learn how listening intelligence can help your business grow, contact us.