As a leader, it can sometimes be difficult to know what your employees are thinking. You may listen to your employee’s concerns, answer their questions, and provide feedback. Yet, many employees may still walk away from the conversation feeling their voices were not heard. Why is that? Well, research suggests that listening is an active process and involves more than just listening.
Active listening is a process that demonstrates interest, but more importantly it’s a way of valuing the other person. Each of us wants to feel important and valued. Listening is one way to communicate that the other person is valued.
Active listening also communicates that the receiver is listening by virtue of body language, encouraging sounds or words, asking for clarification, and feedback. Active listening is the best way to demonstrate that you are interested enough to give full attention to what the other person has to say. Here are some effective tips to help with active listening.
How Do I Listen?
- Stay focused on speaker
- Tune out distractions
- Be relaxed
- Exhibit listening body language
- Make encouraging sounds
- Listen with an empathetic ear
- Ask clarifying questions
- Provide feedback
How Do Others Know You Are Listening?
- Face the speaker
- Good eye contact
- Lean forward
- Open body language (Avoid folding arms)
- Taking notes
- Facial expressions
It’s also important to note that certain “traps” can get in the way of active listening. These traps, known as listening traps, result from poor listening skills and interfere with the active listening process. Below are six common listening traps.
- Mind Reading – Mind reading occurs when the listener stops listening and begins to try to figure out the sender’s message before the sender gets it out. It is related to finishing the sentence for another person. When mind reading occurs, the receiver is too busy trying to figure out the message to hear what is being communicated.
- Judging – Judging occurs when the receiver begins drawing conclusions about the sender’s message before hearing the message. When judging occurs, the receiver passes judgment on the sender and/or message. The problem with this is that the receiver can miss part of the message, as well as the meaning and emotions. It can also close the door to possible options in responding to the other person.
- Day Dreaming – Day dreaming occurs when the receiver’s mind wanders off. Recall that the mind can process information much faster that a person can speak. Day dreaming can occur when the mind strays to other thoughts, rather than focus on what the sender is saying.
- Placating – Placating is pretend listening. It gives the appearance that the receiver is listening, but he/she really is not. Senders can often pick up on body language or other subtleties when this occurs. It communicates that the receiver is not really interested in what the sender has to say. In fact, a sender will sometimes make a comment like, “I can tell you aren’t really interested.” On other occasions, the sender will think to themselves, “I’m wasting my time, this person isn’t interested.” and they will cut the message off short or change the subject.
- Mental Sparring – Mental sparring is reacting to what the other person is saying. Mentally the receiver begins to think of countering comments or his/her next “move”. When the sender finishes, the receiver quickly jumps in with the counter point. As a result, important information in the message is lost and the interaction results in a breakdown of communication or, worse yet, an argument.
- Filtering – Filtering is like selective hearing. A person only hears what he/she wants to hear. The rest of the message is filtered out. There are a variety of filters. Everyone has them.
These listening traps can be avoided. Awareness is the first step to preventing these traps. Understanding and employing active listening skills is the best way to avoid falling into a listening trap.