Are you really listening?

Being an effective communicator is critical to being successful in any profession. The single most important communication skill one can possess is, at best, taken for granted and for many, ignored: listening. For many, listening is simply waiting for your turn to talk. As noted behavioral psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”

Listening, more specifically “active listening,” requires concentration, effort, engagement and a genuine desire to understand. It also requires a lot of discipline and commitment. While most people can resist the temptation to verbally interrupt the person speaking, very few are able to resist two equally as counterproductive behaviors that diminish one’s ability to listen and strain relationships:

  • Critically evaluating the message before the message is complete
  • Prematurely crafting your response

The first is our tendency to critically evaluate what the person is saying, while they are saying it. The energy we are spending on this activity is energy we could be spending on listening. This sort of judgment often replaces the act of simply asking clarifying questions to better understand the other person’s perspective. This can often distort or contaminate the intended message, which can strain the relationship.

The second behavior that diminishes our capacity to listen attentively is our tendency to begin crafting our response before the speaker has completed their thought. Not only does this take away from our capacity to listen, it also increases the likelihood of us offering a response that is not productive as it is based on an incomplete and potentially inaccurate understanding of the situation.

Listening is no different than other skill, in that to improve, you must practice. Next time you are practicing, make a conscious effort to avoid these two self-imposed barriers to listening.