Listening Techniques For More Effective Meetings, Part IWritten by V. Berba Velasco Jr., Ph.D.
We all know what it’s like when a meeting doesn’t go smoothly. Discussions get derailed, tempers start to fray, and things are seldom resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. In such situation, problem is often result of poor communication—and poor communication is frequently caused by poor listening.
Fortunately, there are some simple techniques which can be used to mitigate this problem. The most basic of these is called “active listening.” Now, I know what you’re thinking; this sounds like some goofy technique that simply states obvious and wastes one’s time. The problem, however, is that most people consider themselves to be good listeners, but very few actually are.
An active listener does three important things:
First, he looks and sounds interested in speaker. This requires looking directly at speaker, maintaining eye contact if possible. By doing so, we let speakers know that we are genuinely interested in what they have to say. (Admittedly, in many Western cultures, too much eye contact can make speaker feel self-conscious. The key is to strike a balance, giving speaker enough attention to convey understanding and interest.) It also helps to use vocalizations such as "uh-huh" and "yes" to encourage speakers to continue.
Second, an active listener strives to adopt speaker's viewpoint. Try to see things from her point of view—especially if you find yourself disagreeing! Avoid interrupting or finishing that person’s sentences. Even if you disagree, try to suppress your initial reactions and respond from speaker's frame of reference, not your own. Expressing dissent too quickly can be disastrous, if one has not properly understood a colleague’s point of view. Of course, it may be necessary to express disagreement—perhaps even strong contention—but one shouldn't do that without thoroughly understanding speaker's point of view.
Listening Techniques For More Effective Meetings, Part IIWritten by V. Berba Velasco Jr., Ph.D.
In Part I of this article, we discussed importance of active listening, and how it is important for smooth and effective meetings. In process, we touched on topic of reflective listening. Reflective listening is a valuable means of ensuring that we have properly understood speaker’s thoughts and feelings. Perhaps more importantly, it is also a great way to make that person feel that he has been listened to and appreciated.
How does reflective listening work? It’s really quite simple. Reflective listening means listening carefully to what speaker has to say, and then echoing that person’s ideas back to him, rephrased in your own words. For example, if a colleague presents a marketing idea at a meeting, you can reflect this idea back to him by saying, “Let me see if I’ve understood you correctly. You’re proposing that we do following…” and then attempt to summarize his plan. Or, if a coworker expresses some reservations about a proposal, you could respond by asking, “So, if I understand your concerns, you’re saying that…” and then restate his ideas as best you can.
So what does this accomplish? First and foremost, it helps you verify that you’ve properly understood what other speaker said. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand how important this is. “But of course I understood!” they would say. “I’m a good listener!” What they fail to grasp is that good listeners don’t simply assume that their understanding is accurate and complete. Quite contrary; an effective listener will seek to verify this whenever possible.
Second, it gives speaker an opportunity to clarify points that he may have stated clumsily or inaccurately. Whether we like it or not, some people simply aren’t very good at communicating their ideas first time around. Some people tend to ramble, for example. Others may neglect to mention some crucial points, especially when they’re speaking in an off-the-cuff manner. Still others may state all necessary information, but without giving proper emphasis to all their nuances of meaning. By reflecting what we’ve understood back to them, we can give them opportunities to restate their ideas more accurately.