How we use the word “listen” says a lot about our personalities and attitudes. While the frequency of the word in social exchanges is a reflection of the times we live in. We need to listen to a lot more people and devices. If you’re involved with the customer experience, pay attention to how you listen and remember a good listener can make the customer’s day.

Do you hear or do you listen?

Though we use our ears to both hear and listen, there is more than just a subtle difference between the two. While hearing is restricted to receiving sound, listening is about processing it, even as we consider factors that may either impact it or be impacted by it.

Are you a good listener?

Good listening skills will determine how much you know and how well you understand. A good listener is someone who:

  • Respects the speaker as a peer.

  • Takes an interest in what the speaker has to say.

  • Displays patience to gain understanding.

  • Derives value from what is heard and conveys it.

“A good listener is very nearly as attractive as a good talker. You cannot have a beautiful mind if you do not know how to listen.” Edward de Bono.

Patience is integral to good listening and understanding. Any sign of your flagging interest in an interaction is a sign of your impatience, and your rush to get it over and done with. When it comes to customer support, this can make your customers feel :

  • Annoyed that you are more focused on listening to respond.

  • Offended by your lack of interest in what they have to say.

  • Disinclined to listen to what you have to say.

  • Insulted you think you’re more important than the customer.

Listening is a receptive skill. There is a lot of value to be gained from listening. Especially at work with colleagues and customers, who are likely to have information and perspective that you may not. Here’s how you can derive value from good listening skills:

  • Acknowledge facts and ideas provide more information.

  • Recognize different points of view add more perspective.

  • Understand fresh insights and revelations present depth of field.

  • Test this new understanding for usefulness.

  • Verify sources for credibility.

Don’t listen to myths about listening

Being a good orator is not the hallmark of good communication skills. Being a good listener is. But if you’re proficient with reading, writing, and speaking and face some issues with listening, there is no need for alarm or concern. Listening skills are easily improved. The important thing is to identify what your issues are and of course mitigate myths about listening skills 

The five stages of the listening process don’t necessarily play out in a linear manner. Some stages will tend to repeat and loop until the message is sent and received in its entirety.

  1. Receiving: Hearing the message clearly and comprehensibly.

  2. Interpreting: Understanding the message in its entirety, with the appropriate context.

  3. Recalling: Remembering the complete message and its context, so as to inform and design a response.

  4. Evaluating: Assessing the value of the information in the message.

  5. Responding: Conveying messages with clear language and necessary information, as well as asking the right questions to add value to the exchange.

The first thing to do is to identify at what stage of the listening process your most common barriers to listening occur, and what is causing them. 

Recognize the barriers to listening:

Everything from the weather to your personal mood can affect your listening capacity on any given day. What this means is that there are both external and internal barriers to good listening skills.  

External Barriers:

Environmental barriers, like thunderstorms and blazing heat, like a stuffy or dimly lit room can make us overly sensitive to our discomfort and be very distracting. The same applies to a noisy surrounding. Seating arrangements also play a big role in how well we listen. Being able to see someone can increase your confidence in their abilities to receive and understand information.  

Physiological barriers, such as a cold, a broken leg, a headache, or an allergy to room freshener, can go from annoying to unbearable and impact listening.

Internal Barriers:

Psychological barriers, like moods and emotions can aid or impede listening. Love and excitement can be as much disruptors to listening as can hate and ennui.

  • The disparate rate of speech and thought. We can process more information than we receive from one speaker. This gives us the opportunity to process multiple thoughts that take us further away from the message being received. This completely negates the possibility of the listener giving their undivided attention to the central message.

  • Ideological barriers like bias or prejudices can cause us to block out the messages we’re hearing. When we listen to content that goes against the grain of our beliefs and perceptions, we tend to close up and not absorb the information. This is a barrier to effective listening, because being judgemental about identity or philosophy means we could stop listening in an effective way.

You can improve your listening skills:

What makes your mind drift from your objective? External noise, specific weather, physical discomfort or bad speakers? Once you have a handle on that, you can take steps to neutralize the negatives. This is important because poor listening skills can disrupt teams with conflicts and misunderstandings, affecting morale and efficiency.

Good listening is about seeking deeper understanding about people and situations. It’s about considering the meaning of words, knowing whether or when to look beyond it, and learning to understand non-verbal cues and tone to gain clarity on the speaker’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. 

Twelve steps to becoming a better listener:

  1. Be aware of your mood: defer conversations if you are angry or upset.

  2. Choose a quiet and conducive location for your conversations.

  3. Preempt possible disruptions: turn off cell phones, radios, and TVs.

  4. Exercise self-control, and let the other person speak.

  5. Respect the speaker’s knowledge and skills; keep an open mind.

  6. Think before you speak, and speak only if you can add value to the exchange.

  7. Abstain from inane chatter and ill-timed small talk to fill the silences.

  8. Practice brevity: keep it simple and to the point.

  9. Watch for the other person’s reactions while you speak.

  10. Never plan your response while the other person is speaking.

  11. Overcome fear with good product knowledge and your willingness to help others.

  12. When things go south, maintain your calm and ask for help.

Being a better listener has its perks.

Good speakers don’t always make the best listeners. But a speaker who knows how to be a good listener has a profound impact on people. Good listeners pay it forward, and in doing so, they earn their right to speak.

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