“You don’t understand what I’m saying.”
“I think we have a communication problem.”
Although we generally learn to speak in early childhood, few of us are ever really taught how to listen. As a result, communication problems can occur in many situations, both at work and at home. Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn. When you really begin to listen, the other person usually feels better, he or she is more willing to listen to you, and the relationship improves. Plus, you may learn something! Here are some suggestions to hone your listening skills:
- Prepare to listen . Finish the task you're working on, or put it aside and make a note to finish it later.
- Understand why you’re listening . You might want to obtain information, get another person’s opinion, try to build a relationship, or just demonstrate respect.
- Look like you’re listening . Maintain eye contact, lean forward, and nod occasionally. Don’t focus on how to respond to the other person—there will be plenty of time for that later. Right now, the task is to give the other person your undivided attention.
- Sound like you’re listening . Let the other person finish, and don’t interrupt. If there are pauses, use comments and questions to encourage the other person to continue. (“I see…go on…tell me more about it.”)
- Make sure you heard right . Every so often, summarize what you’ve heard to be sure that you understand accurately. (“So what you’re saying is…let me see if I’ve got this straight…as I understand it…”) Hold off on giving your advice or opinions.
- Show that you care . Pay attention to the speaker’s feelings, as well as any underlying message. (“Sounds like you’re really upset about it.”) If you’re unsure, ask more questions. (“So what was your reaction to all of this? How did you feel about the situation?”)