Active Listening…..the Key to Effective Communication and Strong Relationships

What is active listening?

Active listening is receiving unfiltered information, responding appropriately to that message, listening further in order to understand the intent and  then implementing the best action.  It also involves some feedback to the speaker  in order for both of you to be sure that you understand one another.

When you ask about a speaker’s goals, desires and concerns you will gain a clearer idea of what matters to them, and be more likely to be able to deliver on those issues.  Asking those questions builds trust, respect and rapport…the keys to strong relationships.

In order to establish good business connections, which will ultimately translate into collaborative opportunities, sales, referrals and loyalty, we must build relationships with effective communication….and that begins with Active Listening.

Do you think that just because you told someone something that they actually heard you?  In other words, that they received the message that you intended?  Not necessarily, and if we “assume” that they did, we could be very disappointed when the expected outcome is not realized.  Instead, getting some feedback, just to ensure that the correct message was received, can save a lot of time, energy and money.

There are many interferences  that could have prevented the listener from hearing your message.   Let’s look at them….

1. Lack of focus: Our brains process data at approximately 800-1000 words/minute.  Most of us speak at only 150 words/minute, which makes it hard to stay focussed on someone speaking that slowly.  So we “zone out” or focus on other issues in our head.  Ever find yourself feeling that, “oops, I have no idea what that person has been saying for the past 5 or 10 minutes?”

2. Passive Listening: Just because someone appears to paying attention, does not mean that they are, without a “recap” you will have no idea what they actually heard…appearances can be deceiving!

3. Poor Physical Setting: Maybe the environment is too hot, or too cold, or the lighting is poor.  Perhaps there are outside noises or people walking in and out …..all of which are distracting and can pull the listener’s attention away from your conversation.

4. Listener’s Physical State: Perhaps the listener is not feeling well, hungry, tired, or dealing with a personal problem…all of those conditions could make effective listening a challenge.

5. Unfamiliar Language: Using language that is not familiar to the listener will also cause them to tune out…for example if a physician or dentist describes a procedure or condition to the patient using medical or dental terminology rather than in lay terms, the patient will be unlikely to understand the  description.  However, when asked if they did understand, rather than “looking stupid” they will say that they did.  This does not help the professional to generate compliance with treatment or necessary follow up behaviours.

6. Preset Ideas: Sometimes, individuals come into a meeting or workshop with a preconceived idea of what is going to transpire.  They put up a wall, and will be less likely to actually “hear” what the speaker has to say.

In future, when you are speaking with another person, remember that communication is not simple….if we do not practice active listening we may miss the intended message…..and so may others!

2 thoughts on “Active Listening…..the Key to Effective Communication and Strong Relationships

  1. This is so important in the medical setting. I’m always finding better ways to communicate so that the explanation is heard. Too much Chinese medical jargon is often overwhelming for patients but a good ‘one piece at a time’ approach seems to be well digested.

    • Hi Peter,
      You are so right…dealing with patients effectively is so key to our competence and it certainly begins with Active Listening.
      If we take the time for feedback we can actually find out if the message we sent was the one received.

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