Thursday, February 25, 2010

Communication Skills – How to be a Good Listener

In my previous posts on Communication Skills, I have dwelled on basics. And it would have been seen that much in the art of communication depends on listening to the opponent. As this is very important to prepare your adequate and potent response.  Now to do that, one has to be a good listener since this is the key to win over the argument in the end. Unless you allow your opponent to open up freely with you and that he has said whatever he wanted to, only then you can be prepared to open up. And while your opponent is talking, you should have the patience to listen – listen intently and with such a degree that it gives the message to your opponent that you are really interested in what he has to say or sell.

Here are some tips to become a good listener:

  • Let the other person open up: In any conversation, after the pleasantries, let the other person commence the conversation. For one thing, this will show him your generosity and courtesy. And for another, it will provide you ample time to gauge and understand professionalism, depth of knowledge and piece of mind.  
  • Help establish a favourable physical and mental space: Normally it is observed that whenever a serious conversation is taking place, there are background distortions and disturbances, like a TV running or telephones ringing. It will be much to the annoyance of the person sitting across you if you are more interested in the news flash on the TV or reading the SMS received on your cellular phone. This will also miss out for you some important points the other person has made.
  • Avoid Frequent Interruptions: Most people do not like frequent interruptions when spoken to. So during a conversation, let the other person finish his point. If something requires more input, write it down and clarify after he is finished. Frequent interruptions may lead to diversion from the point under discussion and may become a hurdle to keep on the momentum. Many people make interruptions as they think silence on their part may mean boredom for the person spoken to. The silence can be supplemented by your alertness, body language and eye to eye contact (remember the non verbal communication skills).
  • Assertive Body Language: And supplementing the last point above, show your enthusiasm and interest through your active body language. This may include positive nods, smiles etcetera. But remember never to expose your negative expressions to appear like wrinkles, frowns or pathetic nods.
  • Keep other’s perspective in view: Whenever talking to someone, keep other’s perspective foremost and consider how offended you would feel if the other is not keeping your perspective in the same manner. This will make the other more comfortable and allow a free and healthy discussion. And even if the other is dumb, give him all the credit of representing  an organization and authority on behalf of his organization. This will keep him at an equal footing and provide him confidence (as you would also need when your time to open up comes).
  • Read in between the lines: Be alert and find meanings of special words and gestures. Read his face expressions, gestures while he makes point. One can know if he means a thing or not by just reading in between the lines.
  • Be patient and allow other to finish: It is often seen that when one is making a point, the other tries to take over. This not only bad manners, but it also robs initiative from the other who then feels hurt and creates a bad taste. So let him finish in his own time (unless you feel he is wasting time unnecessarily, but then that too has to be brought to a termination skillfully).
  • Have a reassuring attitude: At all times during the discussion, you must convey the feeling of reassurance to the person spoken to.  If he thinks you are bored or thinking he is a dummy, any further discussion may then not be meaningful or in confidence. May be it is his first time or the environment is not conducive for him. You may help the person with some additional knowledge so that he remains on the wicket with his shoe spikes firmly grounded.
  • Ensure a meaningful Q&A session: When a person has finished, make sure your questions are artfully worded and are to the point made earlier. Remember even if probing is desired, it is to be done with very carefully because if the person gets the feeling that he is being spied upon, the discussion can be a disaster.  Similarly, questions should be so worded that they have definite answers. A vague question would get a vague answer (garbage in, garbage out).
  • Summing Up: When a point is made, it is better to sum up the discussion till that point so that no ambiguity remains. Restate this in your own words and let the person acknowledge its correctness. This will be a sign of your interest in the other person and intense involvement in whatever he said.  This may even allow the other person to make corrections or restate his point if he thinks you have got it wrong or need more words to understand his viewpoint.

So practice being a good listener – this will help you win over (most of the times).


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