Let’s be honest: What was your first thought when you read the title of this blog post? “Active listening? Not again!”, or “What old news!”, or maybe, “I’ve heard this before, and I’ve heard it a million times in various types of training…”?
I’m sure you’ve come across this method in a number of communication training courses. You’ve probably also participated in group exercises on this subject and perhaps found them interesting. But in your personal and professional life, communication problems still occur – perhaps disputes and conflicts are even based on them – and now you’re looking for some additional and, above all, new content and tips on how to avoid them. Is this you?
Well, you’re not alone.
No matter what context I’m working in – be it communication, negotiation or conflict management workshops, mediation, conflict moderation or strategy meetings at the highest hierarchical levels – I always encounter communication problems; and it’s not uncommon for their resolution to be the first step towards resolving the conflict situation to achieve a collaborative result or an even better performance or achievement of a goal.
Do we really need new methods and approaches? Do we really need to reinvent the wheel?
I’m a fan of evolution and simplification when it comes to our interactions. But I also believe that we should start by actually applying in practice the methods we’ve heard so much about in theory.
And that’s where 99% of the situations I encounter in my daily work as a consultant get stuck.
The first step in active listening is listening. You know this, of course, because you’re familiar with the method. But how often do you actually do it? Listening. It’s not just the purely acoustic process of listening that involves acknowledging with eye contact, attention and “social grunts” such as uttering “mmm-hmm” or “yes.” No, this stage goes beyond that.
“Listening” also means focusing our thoughts on the other person. Please reflect honestly on the conversations you have: How often do you really listen to the other person without simultaneously working on an appropriate response, thinking about your next argument, or even wondering about the other person’s behavior, getting annoyed with them or whatever else?
And it’s precisely when we’re thinking about the next step that we fail to do that one key thing: listen.
Because of this, we miss specific statements, nuances, and most importantly, significant elements of the other person’s level of need – which may require us to ask more questions, clarify certain aspects or pick up important information – that makes clear, collaborative and misunderstanding-free communication possible in the first place.
Listening attentively can be tiring and requires our full concentration. As a result, we don’t always succeed at it. But if we’re aware of this communication deficit of ours, we can use the “active listening” method in a targeted manner in certain situations. The results may surprise you. Active listening may be “old hat” for you in theory, but in practice it can be a fresh, new step on your journey towards great communication.
I look forward to hearing your feedback and experiences.
Go for it,
Your Crisis Manager