“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” - Stephen R. Covey.
Effective listening sounds elementary right? Turns out, it’s not. And it’s one of the biggest barriers in communication.
The thing is, most of us don’t mean to be bad listeners. In fact, the opposite is true. We are trying to show we understand. We are trying to show we care. We are trying to show we can relate by describing a personal experience that’s similar to the one being discussed.
You know the one where the person is talking and you cut them off halfway through with an “oh yes, I totally get it, totally get it. I know what you mean!”
The problem is, do you really know what they meant? We’re in such a rush to connect with the person that we stopped paying attention and started formulating our response while the person was still talking. Thus, we just missed vital points in the conversation that could have changed our response entirely. We stopped truly listening and asking questions just so we could contribute. [AKA, interrupt.]
So, how does one actively listen?
First, slow down! Let the person reveal his or her full thought before responding. And don’t plan your response while they are talking, either. Truthfully, you really cannot do both at the same time.
Secondly, ask questions. Opened ended questions, such as “what do you do?” “how did you get started with your company?” “what are some goals you wish to achieve?” – you may be surprised just how much you can learn about a person in a short amount of time.
Also, ensure they know they are being heard. Whether it’s a head nod, smile, follow-up question etc., stay active and engaged in their story.
Bottom line, effective listening is actually hard. It’s a skill and it takes effort. However, it’s imperative in the public relations industry. It’s crucial that our clients know they are understood. It’s empirical that we can align with their goals and properly tell their story. It’s important that we can connect, truly connect, with members of the media and fellow colleagues.
So, put your phone down. Close your laptop. Ask some questions.
There is a wealth of information in the world. Listen for it.