How many times have you found yourself wondering if you understood right what your co- speaker was talking about? How often do you give the answer your co-speaker is waiting for when they raise a question to you? You guessed it right, it’s all about communication skills and within the product community, communication skills are very important; not only during your mentorship engagement, but also during your career journey.
Active listening isn’t a skill you can acquire or improve over night; as with most soft skills, it requires a lot of practice, repetition and active trying. It may sound a lot of work, however the results will compensate you and help you advance faster!
Within the different set of communication skills, this post will concentrate on the importance of active listening; listening to comprehend, evaluate and process information. Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a big impact on your job effectiveness, on your mentorship engagement, and on the quality of relationships with others.
By becoming a better listener, you can speed up your learning curve, improve productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate with others. But, most important, it helps you avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
Tip: Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. Understanding your own personal style of communicating will help you create strong personal and professional relationships which will last long! For information about the different styles of communication you can read here.
What it takes
It’s not an easy ride, that’s for sure. Discipline is the starting point and of course, making a conscious effort to hear, not only the words the other person is saying, but most importantly the complete message they are communicating.
Tip: Use the product mentorship program to practice or sharpen your active listening skills! Communicate your intension to your mentor or mentee and give it a go!
Pay attention to the other person carefully and most importantly, don’t allow yourself to get distracted by what is going on around you or by former arguments you may have had with the person that is speaking. Getting bored, and losing focus on what the other person is saying, also don’t work on your benefit.
Tip: If you have difficulty concentrating on what the other person is saying, try repeating their words mentally; this will reinforce their message and will help you stay focused.
To avoid making the other person feel like they’re talking to a wall, make sure you’re acknowledging what they’re saying. There are a few ways to do so: you can just nod your head or say ‘uh huh’. Of course, that doesn’t mean necessarily that you agree with them; it’s an indication that you’re interested and engaged in what they’re saying.
If the information you’ve received so far isn’t enough, and you want to encourage them to keep on talking, you can occasionally ask questions or recap what has been communicated so far. That is an indication that you’re listening, and you understand the message. But, don’t overdo it! Choose the moments you’ll use those techniques, as often interruptions may frustrate them and make them lose their train of thought.
Some techniques that can help you become a more active listener
It’s not black or white, and each person has their own way of showing they are active listeners. However, there are some generic techniques that can help you boost that skill:
1. Pay Attention
To both verbal and non-verbal communication. Body language ‘speaks’ loudly as well and ‘communicates’ important messages.
· Look at the speaker directly
· Focus on what they’re saying and put aside any disputes or distracting thoughts
· Leave aside any mental preparation for an argument or verbal come back
· Don’t get distracted by side conversations or other distractions around you
· ‘Listen’ to the body language of the speaker
2. Show that you’re listening
Use body language, or verbal expressions to show the speaker you’re interested and engaged, and therefore keen on hearing more:
· Nod occasionally
· Smile and use other facial expressions
· Make sure you’re posture doesn’t send mixed signals, but it indicates you’re open
· Encourage the speaker to continue, with small verbal comments, like ‘yes’ and ‘uh huh’
3. Provide feedback
Assumptions, opinions, beliefs and judgements may get in the way and distort what we hear. As a listener, it’s on you to understand what is being said. This means that you may need to reflect on what is being said, verbal and non- verbal, and to ask questions:
· Rephrase what is being said. You can use expressions like ‘Sounds like you’re saying…’, ‘Is this what you’re saying…?’or ‘Do I understand right that…?’
· Ask clarification questions
· Summarize the speaker’s points and comments and let them correct what you mentioned wrong
4. Defer judgement
Interruptions aren’t well received, as the speaker may be frustrated and also the full message may not be transferred fully.
· Allow the speaker to finish their point before asking questions or summarizing
· Refrain from interrupting with counter arguments
· Refrain from making judgment comments
5. Respond appropriately
Frustrations may occur, however it’s essential that you respect the speaker and that you respond kindly. You are collecting information and perspective and you gain nothing by attacking the speaker or putting them down; on the contrary, you may ruin your relationship.
· Be open, candid and honest in your response
· Assert your opinions carefully
· Treat the other person with respect, kindness and in a way you think they would like to be treated