Being successful at work usually depends on access to good information. Some information arrives in written form, but the vast majority is delivered orally. By becoming a more responsive listener, you'll increase your opportunities for collecting valuable information, and reduce mistakes due to miscommunications and misunderstandings.
There are several things you can do to become a more responsive listener. You can
- acknowledge the speaker
- paraphrase what was said, and
- reflect the emotions underlying the speaker's statements
Acknowledging the speaker
Acknowledging lets the speaker know you're listening.
To acknowledge the speaker, offer an occasional "uh huh" or "yes" to encourage the speaker to keep going and to make it clear that you're listening. You can also acknowledge the speaker by asking a relevant question. If a colleague says, "Tricia in marketing is such a moron", you could respond by saying, "Did Tricia do something that upset you?" This acknowledgement will provide your colleague with an opportunity to clarify the remark.
Paraphrasing what was said
Paraphrasing or restating the speaker's message lets the speaker know you heard and understood the content of the message.
To paraphrase, simply repeat the content of the speaker's statement in your own words. If a co-worker complains, "Tricia makes too many personal calls and surfs the Internet all day", for example, you could show your understanding by replying, "Yes, Tricia does seem to be wasting a lot of time on non-work-related matters." By paraphrasing, you make it clear that you've understood what your colleague is saying.
Reflecting the emotions underlying the speaker's statements
Reflecting the emotions underlying the other person's statements is a technique designed to let the speaker know you heard the message and understand how the speaker feels about it. By acknowledging the speaker's feelings, you help establish deeper levels of rapport.
To reflect the right emotion, you need to listen for the underlying emotional content of the speaker's message – in other words, how the speaker feels. If a colleague says, "I'm assigned more work than anyone else in this department", for example, you could say, "Sounds like you're feeling overwhelmed." Notice that the reflection is about the emotion attached to the message, rather than about the content of the message.
How do you know if you're being responsive in your listening? The best indication is your co-worker's reaction. If a co-worker says "you're not listening," you're probably missing something in the communication. Think before you respond. Acknowledge your listener, paraphrase to show you understand, and listen for emotions, and then respond by reflecting the right emotion. Using these responsive listening techniques will help reduce the confusion and redundancy that results when people feel they haven't been heard or properly understood.