Strategies for Active Listening

Posted by Lloyd on July 18, 2012

Creating an environment of supportive communication in your facility will improve morale, reduce turnover and make first-class customer service the rule rather than the exception. Supportive communication is communication that addresses any existing problems while preserving the underlying trust and positive relationships between people.

This definition makes it clear that communication is an interactive, two-way process that is empathetic and appreciative of the uniqueness of the communicators; it’s not top-down, talking at each other with pre-determined personal agendas. Most important, supportive communication requires active listening. Implement the following strategies to improve your listening and communication skills.

Know the importance of active listening

Many managers pay a great deal of lip service to the importance of listening, yet their behavior suggests it is just lip service. Studies indicate that people typically hear and understand about 25 percent of what is said. Begin by recognizing that your listening skills probably need improving, and that accomplishing this goal will require some work.

Select the appropriate response

While it’s obviously important to let the speaker know that you are listening, robotic head bobbing and deadpan “yeahs” and “uh-huhs” aren’t the way to do that. To select the appropriate response, first figure out the purpose of the conversation. Are you coaching (teaching skills or helping to improve existing skills) or counseling (explaining to someone about the existence or nature of a problem)? You may tend to lapse into a rote response procedure, but you don’t have to do that. Consider four types of potential responses: advising, deflecting, probing and reflecting.

Advising. An advising response is the type best used for coaching, where the listener has more expertise than the speaker. Beware of the tendency to give more advice than is specifically requested or needed. Try to limit your response to what the speaker really needs. One way to avoid this problem, and to let the speaker use your conversation to try to work through the problem, is to avoid giving advice as your first response. Get in the habit of asking one more question before giving advice.

Deflecting. Deflecting is frequently used, and often inappropriately. It is the response that changes the subject, as in, “Oh really? That’s nothing! Let me tell you what happened to me.” When used, deflecting can make the other person feel devalued and diminished. Deflecting responses don’t work well unless the listener makes it clear that the purpose is to show empathy, give reassurance or give an example of how a similiar situation was delt with. Think in terms of, “I understand how you feel because I had a similar experience,” not, “What happened to me was a million times worse!” Make sure your deflective response is connected to what the speaker said immediately before.

Probing. The purpose of a probing response is to get more information. It can have the additional benefit of helping the listener avoid leaping to a conclusion or judgment that will close off further communication. For example, “why” questions are not as effective as “what” questions. A “why” question can put the speaker on the defensive, throw off their train of thought and throw off the course of the discussion. Also, refine your probing response to fit the situation. Sometimes you might want to attempt to mirror the speaker’s feelings, as in, “So when she said that, it made you feel like she didn’t respect your opinion?” A tactful question will rarely be a bad response. It lets the speaker know that you are listening, and it can help you get more information.

Reflecting. Reflecting shows understanding and acceptance, but only if you do it correctly. The reflecting response requires the listener to restate what the speaker has said, in different words.

Be careful not to simply parrot what the speaker has said, lest they think you aren’t really listening. Give the impression that “this is what I hear you saying, and this is how I think you feel.”

As you practice listening skills, you will discover that you are connecting with others on a level that you thought impossible. Not only that, by speaking less, you will be considered a better communicator.

Tags: , ,