Listening is often thought to be a basic human ability rather than an acquired skill. Sure, hearing someone speak comes quite easily without any real thought or attention invested. However, if you’re trying to understand someone in a conversation and process what they’re saying, then active listening is necessary.
Listening is something we must learn to do. Having working ears doesn’t mean we have the skill and discipline to actively listen.
Actively listening means you are 100 percent zoned in on the other person. You’re understanding their words as well as paying attention to their body language, facial expressions, and potential emotions behind their words. Throughout the conversation, you’re responding appropriately to what they have to say and clarifying where you need to.
According to a Forbes article, active listening is made up of three main principles:
- Empathetic understanding
- Listening is not agreeing
- Be willing and ready to listen–no distractions
Empathetic understanding means understanding the other person’s point of view and being able to relate to how they feel. While you may understand their perspective, you don’t need to agree with it. You’re just able to process their side before sharing your own. Lastly, distractions kill any opportunity to truly listen. Either eliminate the distraction quickly, or reschedule the conversation for a time when the other person will have your full attention.
Just like many things, active listening is easier said than done. It takes practice. It takes patience. It takes consistency.
Simply deciding that you’re going to truly listen to someone isn’t always enough. Many obstacles and distractions come up throughout our day that hold us back from fully investing in every conversation. An article by Harvard Business Review details some common barriers to active listening and how to get past them.
Oftentimes, we are so focused on how we appear to others (what we’re doing, our body language, our facial expressions) that we lose track of listening to the person holding the meeting, on the other side of the phone, or in our office. Being concerned with our own performance is natural, but we must learn to ignore our inner critic’s voice and focus on the person in front of us instead.
Another common obstacle involves over-anticipation. How many times have you decided your response to someone before letting them finish their sentence, story, presentation? Whether you’ve done this out of fear of not having the right response on the spot or just because you assume you know what they’re going to say, you lose a part of the conversation because you naturally discount everything said between the moment you decide on your response and when you actually say it.
Or, if you’re anticipating a conversation to end in negativity or confrontation, you may be more likely to spit off your thoughts quickly without listening to the other side as a means of avoiding conflict. Difficult conversations are necessary for a workplace to progress and succeed, and active listening must be present in those conversations. HBR suggests that in order to overcome this obstacle, become aware of your emotional triggers. When we’re emotionally uncomfortable, our listening skills shut down.
Lastly, when you’re confident and have a strong belief, thoughtfully listening to another person’s side can sometimes be challenging. While we’re all entitled to our opinions, be careful not to go into a meeting or professional conversation with your mind already made up. The conversation might as well not be had, then. Your thoughts and ideas may be great, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right for the situation or couldn’t be improved upon. Always be willing to hear new suggestions and perspectives.
According to HBR, “Listening is a skill that enables you to align people, decisions, and agendas. You cannot have leadership presence without hearing what others have to say.”
When we listen to other people, we learn about them—even if we don’t agree with them. As a leader, listening is a necessary quality because it allows us to be well-rounded and understand our team on a deeper level. We also create a safe space where our team feels like they can come to us because we hear them and seek to know them deeply.
Conflict will arise, undoubtedly, but the best resolution comes from a conversation in which everyone has the chance to both speak as well as be heard. If we’re able to comprehend each person’s position on the situation, not only can we resolve conflict, but we can integrate from it.
iGenCo believes active listening to be an integral skill to the success of a workplace dynamic and culture. For more information about how to sharpen your listening skills, take a look at some of iGenCo’s offerings.