Looking back on communication workshops I have run with academics, business managers, and other leaders, people come with many different professional interpersonal issues that they need help with. They want to know how to change the behaviour of a colleague. How can I get them to be more motivated? More organised? Less likely to interrupt? Less likely to sabotage my leadership?
A good place to start is by changing our own behaviour – and some very subtle strategies around active listening is a great place to start.
Listening is often thought of as a passive action. Isn’t it just sitting back and being quiet? Letting the other person have their say? Trying to understand and find a solution quickly? Active listeners do more than this, and it ends up being a much more powerful interaction for both parties when they do.
When you listen you receive signals from the sender and pay attention to them. But an active listener does more. They:
- Suspend judgement by not forming an opinion until the speaker has finished
- Avoid interrupting the speaker's conversation
- Remain open and curious about what the speaker has to say
When you listen you try and understand what the sender means, evaluate and remember the message. But an active listener does more. They:
- Empathise with the speaker (being sensitive to their feelings, thoughts and situation)
- Organise the speaker’s ideas into key points while they are being communicated
When you listen you try and give feedback to the sender, which motivates and directs the speaker’s communication. But an active listener does more. They:
- Show interest : Maintain good eye contact and send back signals (eg: nodding, “I see”)
- Clarify the message and rephrase the speaker’s ideas at appropriate breaks
How about for a new year resolution you try one or two of these techniques? Simple changes in your behaviour that make you a better communicator, and help the person you are communicating with to be more open and clear with you. Be consistent, be easy on yourself and others. It’s all about building positive relationships, and bringing some humanity, care and empathy to the table.
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