EFFECTIVE listening is active rather than passive. In passive listening, you are much like a tape recorder, but not nearly as accurate.

You try to absorb as much of the information presented as possible. Even if the speaker provides you with a clear message and makes his or her delivery interesting enough to keep your attention, your memory of what was said will soon fade.

Active listening requires you to empathise with the speaker so that you can understand the communication from his or her point of view. Active listening is hard work. You have to concentrate and you have to want to fully understand what a speaker is saying.

This active listening model forms the foundation for making you an effective listener:

Be motivated

If a listener is unwilling to exert the effort to hear and understand, no amount of additional advice is likely to improve listening effectiveness. So your first step towards becoming an effective listener is a willingness to make the effort.

Make eye contact

It is ironic that while “you listen with your ears, people judge whether you are listening by looking at your eyes”. Making eye contact with the speaker focuses your attention, reduces the likelihood that you will become distracted, and encourages the speaker.

Show interest

The effective listener shows interest in what is being said through non-verbal signals. Affirmative head nods and appropriate facial expressions, when added to good eye contact, convey to the speaker that you’re listening.

Avoid distracting actions

The other side of showing interest is avoiding actions that suggest your mind is somewhere else. When listening, don’t look at your watch, shuffle papers, play with your smartphone, or engage in similar distractions. They make the speaker feel that you’re bored or uninterested.

Express empathy

The active listener tries to understand what the speaker sees and feels by putting him or herself in the speaker’s shoes. Don’t project your own needs and intentions onto the speaker. When you do so, you are likely to hear what you want to hear.

See the whole picture

The effective listener interprets feelings and emotions as well as factual content. If you listen to words alone and ignore other vocal cues and non-verbal signals, you will miss a wealth of subtle messages.

Ask questions

The critical listener analyses what he or she hears and asks questions. This behaviour provides clarification, ensures understanding, and assures the speaker that you’re listening.

Paraphrase

Paraphrasing means restating what the speaker has said in your own words. The effective listener uses phrases such as: “What I think you are saying is. . .”. By rephrasing what the speaker has said in your own words and feeding it back to the speaker, you verify the accuracy of your understanding.

Don’t interrupt

Let the speaker complete his or her thought before you try to respond. Don’t try to second‑guess where the speaker’s thoughts are going.

Integrate what’s being said

Instead of treating each new piece of information as an independent entity, put the pieces together. Treat each part of the message as if it were an additional piece of a puzzle.

Don’t overtalk

While talking may be more fun and silence may be uncomfortable, you can’t talk and listen at the same time. The good listener recognises this fact and doesn’t overtalk.

Confront your biases

There are “red flag” words that draw our attention or cause us to draw premature conclusions. Examples might include terms like racist, feminist or environmentalist. Use information about the speaker to improve your understanding of what he has to say, but don’t let your biases distort the message.

Make smooth transitions

In most work situations, you’re continually shifting back and forth between the roles of speaker and listener. From a listening perspective, this means concentrating on what a speaker has to say and practising, not thinking about what you are going to say as soon as you get your chance.

Be natural

An effective listener develops a style that is natural and authentic. If you exaggerate eye contact, facial expressions, the asking of questions, showing of interest, and the like, you will lose credibility. A good listener is not a manipulator.

Article by Chris Fenney, co-founder and director of Training Edge International. For more information, e-mail chris.fenney@trainingedgeasia.com or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com