What is the key to improving all your relationships?
If you thought listening was mostly a passive activity, read this article very, very slowly – and often.
If you already practice active listening, you can always improve.
The primary component of active listening is empathy. Empathy is one of the greatest gifts you can give another human being.
It’s the ability to understand another person’s thoughts and feelings from their point of view. It’s feeling with them – not fixing them – not judging them – not feeling sorry for them.
To get empathy you have to be an active listener.
Here are some essential elements of active listening:
Pay Attention: Give the person your undivided attention. I can’t begin to tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where the person running the meeting is also working on their phone. Don’t. Ever. Do. This.
Communicate with Body Language Cues: Look them in the eyes, nod your head, open your arms, lean forward slightly. If you’re in a room with a window, sit with the window at your back so you’re not tempted to gaze out the window.
Avoid Interruptions: Resist the urge to interrupt or interject your own thoughts and opinions. Let the person finish their thoughts before responding. We all know that person who is thinking how to respond before you have stopped talking. Don’t be that person.
Clarify and Summarize: Paraphrase or summarize what the person has said to ensure you’re understanding and demonstrate that you are actively engaged in the conversation. It’s amazing how easy it is to misunderstand what someone is saying, and if you don’t check for clarity, you’ll both think you received the same message. Clarify with this simple question, “Are you saying…?”
Reflect Emotion: What people say is one thing, what they feel about what they say is another. Make sure you’re picking up on the emotion. Use phrases like “It sounds like you’re feeling…” or “That must be (and name the emotion) frustrating, sad, thrilling, etc.”
Ask Relevant Questions: Ask open-ended questions to encourage the person to expand on their thoughts and provide more details. “Tell me what’s most important to you about this.”
Avoid Judgment: You can’t fully understand what another is saying and feeling and at the same time be judging them. Active listening requires an open mind and a willingness to consider alternative perspectives.
Provide Feedback: Offer constructive feedback when appropriate, but do so in a respectful and supportive manner. You can provide an alternative point of view once you’ve fully understood what the other person is saying.
Pack Your Patience: Everyone has a different pace and cadence of speaking. Some are fast talkers, some are slower. Be patient and allow the speaker to express themselves fully. Avoid rushing the conversation or trying to steer it in a different direction. Active listening requires a willingness to give people the time they need to get their point across.
If you’re in sales you may be thinking, this sounds good, but I’m trying to sell something not be a counselor.
Think again. Active listening will allow you to understand exactly what your guest is looking for and allow you to tailor your message to close the deal. Do they have a problem to solve? Need product information? Want financing? If you don’t listen chances are you’ll miss the one point that will make the sale.
If I walk in to buy something and the sales associate dumps their prepackaged spiel on me before they try to understand what’s important to me – I’ll turn around and never be back.
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