Active Listening Crucial for Better Communication

Article excerpt

Many professionals and executives focus their energies on improving their communication skills. For most, that means concentrating on speaking skills. After all, we've been told since college that we need to be polished public speakers if we expect to have a successful career. Unfortunately, countless professionals forget the importance of active listening.

Active listening is more than just hearing. Hearing is much like driving down the highway, hands on the wheel without incident, but without actually remembering the last 20 kilometres. Active listening is truly paying attention to every road sign and kilometre-marker, keeping tabs on your speed limit at all times, and knowing exactly where you happen to be.

To be an effective listener, you need to pay attention to not only the words being said, but you also must be cognizant of non-verbal cues, too. So much of communication is non-verbal.

Active listening skills are extremely important if you want to be a better leader, a better employee or a better partner. There are two ways to do improve your active listening skills:

-- Make listening a priority. You have to want to develop your listening skills. Many professionals want to be better speakers, but the great communicators, those who truly connect with people, know how to listen. Instead of always focusing on what you are saying, focus on what the other person is saying.

-- Practice. Put yourself in situations where you can practise. Go into a conversation with the goal that you will talk half the time and listen half the time. That will get you on the right path. Test your skills at a networking event -- you'll be way ahead of the small-talk game. You may still have trouble remembering the names of the new people you just met. But if you were actively listening, you'll be able to reflect on your conversations and file that information away for when you might need it (think potential client relationships, sales opportunities, future career opportunities).

On the flip side, it's important to acknowledge the difficultly many people have in listening and take that into account when you are doing the talking, whether you're giving a presentation or having a business conversation. …