Categories
Blogs

Peak Mind Pro: The Power of Active Listening

Think back to a situation at work that did not go well. Perhaps it was an interaction with a colleague, a poor decision, or a costly mistake. What factors contributed to that situation? 

Have you considered listening as a factor? If everyone involved had truly been listening – to each other, to the information being conveyed, to the company’s goals or needs – would the outcome have been any different? 

Why We Don’t Listen

Listening is, arguably, the most important communication skill and is a cornerstone of most business activities, regardless of industry. Unfortunately, most people aren’t naturally great at listening. We get caught up in multitasking, so our attention is divided, all but ensuring we miss out on some critical aspects of the message. Or we jump to conclusions or interpretations that might be inaccurate, then react on the basis of misinformation. Alternatively, we might focus on our response, how to convey our points or press our agenda forward, bypassing the fundamental step of understanding. Ultimately, we want to speak, to be heard, and we often gloss over this crucial first step of effective communication: listening. 

That’s too bad because being an effective listener gives you a competitive edge, regardless of your organizational role.

Active Listening

So what does it mean to be a great listener?  It isn’t necessarily an innate talent. Rather, being a great listener means that you have mastered the skill of active listening, which essentially includes 3 main active listening techniques:

1. Pay attention. 

Multitasking or splitting attention is a myth. Trying to do so will result in you missing out on a significant chunk of information being conveyed verbally or non-verbally. 

2. Convey that you are listening.

Demonstrate that you are fully engaged by using body language, nodding, making small verbalizations (e.g., “Uh, huh,” “I see”), responsive facial expressions, or asking open ended questions for elaboration.

3. Focus on comprehending the message as intended.

Listen with the intent to understand, not respond. This also means suspending judgments initially. Clarify your understanding to ensure accuracy before you move on to responding. 

The Benefits of Effective & Active Listening

The benefits of active listening are multifaceted. At a minimum, being a good listener means that you will capture and retain more of the crucial information, which can increase productivity and facilitate better performance on projects. It also means that you will have more accurate and robust information to consider when making decisions, potentially improving the quality and outcomes of those decisions. Thus ultimately making your conversation partner feel heard and building trust with them. 

In addition, active listening skills strengthen relationships. By paying full attention to another person and ensuring that you are understanding their message as intended, you are communicating several key messages such as “I value you and what you have to say” and that “you can trust me to understand and cooperate with you.” Practicing active listening helps with problem solving. In contrast, consider times when you’ve tried to talk to someone who was distracted by their phone or email or something else, nodded mindlessly, or cut in to respond without actually understanding what you were saying. You likely felt frustrated, dismissed, or devalued in some way. 

Effective and active listening can help cut down on miscommunication and the conflict or subpar performance that can follow. Furthermore, it enhances your influence and ability to persuade or negotiate. The most persuasive people and successful negotiators start by truly seeing the other’s perspective, then guiding them to a new one. Understanding that perspective starts with listening.

Taken all together, active listening is a soft skill that can have a substantial impact on your performance across the board.

Tips to Try

Active listening is a skill that needs to be practiced in order to master it. Implement these helpful strategies and notice what impact doing so has on you, your teams, and your organization.

Pay Full Attention:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Put down your phone.
  • If you must use a device to take notes, tell the other person. Say something like, “I want to be sure I capture the important points, so I’m going to take some notes.” Spelling it out directly lets them know that you are still fully engaged, not somewhere else mentally. 

Fact Check:

  • Before you respond with your opinion, ideas, or retorts, make sure you have an accurate understanding. 
  • Paraphrase their take home points. Rather than verbatim stating what they just said, rephrase it in your own words. Start with a phrase like, “Let me make sure I’m understanding correctly. Are you saying…?” or “What I’m hearing you say is…”
  • If you notice that you start to get upset by something you are hearing, this is a powerful signal that you need to fact check. It is quite possible that there is a bit of miscommunication happening, and strong emotions cloud our ability to think logically, process new information, and make effective decisions. 
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
– Roy T. Bennett
Categories
Blogs

Lost in Translation: How to Avoid Miscommunication

Did you ever play Telephone as a kid? It’s the game where someone whispers a phrase into the ear of the next person, who whispers it to the next, and so on until the message, completely bungled by this point, gets to the last person. They say it out loud, and everyone laughs at just how far off it was from the original. “I like apples” somehow morphed into “ladybugs and tassels” or some other nonsense.

If only real-life Telephone scenarios were as funny. 

Where miscommunication happens

Humans are inherently social creatures. We exist within networks and communities, and all of our interactions hinge on communication. So much disconnect, tension, and outright conflict stems from things getting lost in translation. In any interaction, there’s what I think I’m saying, what I actually say, and what you think I’m saying. In other words, there are several opportunities for our meaning to get lost in translation. But it’s easy to avoid miscommunication.

That’s not what I meant to say

The gap between what we think we are saying and what we actually say can be surprisingly wide and can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes, especially within close relationships, we make a thinking error by expecting them to understand – without full explanation – how we feel, what we want, or what we mean. When we fall into this trap, we may not verbally express what we mean…then get upset when the other person just doesn’t get it. 

Another barrier to actually communicating what you need and want has to do with willingness and effectiveness. Are you willing to experience the discomfort that may arise by saying what you need to? Do you worry that the other person will react negatively? Do you feel like a burden? Is it awkward or uncomfortable for you in some way? If these or similar sound familiar, learning how to accept difficult emotions and building the psychological strength to be effective in the face of them is important.

Speaking of effectiveness, that brings us to another barrier in communication: do you have the skills to communicate effectively? What you say and how you say it can dramatically affect how the message lands. For example, “You’re inconsiderate” v. “I would appreciate help with the kids this evening” may both stem from you wanting to communicate frustration to your partner about an unmet need, but the latter is more likely to get you the outcome you’re looking for.

A few quick tips for communicating more effectively:

1. Don’t expect anyone – even those who know you inside and out – to read your mind. Spell it out.

2. Use non-defensive language. This formula is a good cheat sheet for communicating clearly and effectively: I feel _____ when you _____ because _____. I need_____. 

3. Use eye contact and facial expressions to show you are paying attention. This builds trust in your communication partner. 

Be a better listener: Avoid Miscommunication

On the other side of the communication coin, there can be a mismatch between what someone actually says and what we hear them say. More aptly, the problem lies in the way we process and interpret what they say, and thinking errors come into play here, too. We may make assumptions about what they meant or add unintended implications, or we may fill in the blanks based on our own mind’s agenda rather than theirs. Have you ever been a part of a team and the project manager tells you what to do? Your team members may feel put off just listening to the request, but because of face-to-face active listening, the PM’s verbal cues, tone of voice, or body language may tell a different story. 

In any case, the effect can be destructive if we react to misinformation. Imagine what might ensue if your friend tells you he has to cancel dinner plans but you “hear” he doesn’t want to have dinner with you and you assume that he’s annoyed by you. 

One of the most helpful ways to avoid miscommunication in this translation problem is to strengthen and transform your listening skills. First, adopt the mindset that you are listening to understand, not to respond. That means that your primary objective is to listen to what is actually being said and make sure that you understand the message as intended. You can do this by fact checking. Paraphrase what you understood and ask if that is correct before moving on to your response. That alone can clear up a lot of misunderstandings

Level up your communication skills

Because communication is such an essential part of healthy relationships and healthy relationships are one of the biggest predictors of life satisfaction and wellbeing, our next Quarterly Psych Strength workshop is centered on this topic. We’ll be covering communication styles and ways to use this insider knowledge to avoid miscommunication in your life. You won’t want to miss this impactful event.

“Remember that misuse of language can lead to miscommunication, and that miscommunication leads to everything that has ever happened in the whole of the world.” 
– Joseph Fink