Listening Techniques For More Effective Meetings, Part I
We all know what it’s like when a meeting doesn’t go smoothly. Discussions get derailed, tempers start to fray, and things are seldom resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. In such situation, the problem is often the result of poor communication—and poor communication is frequently caused by poor listening.
Fortunately, there are some simple techniques which can be used to mitigate this problem. The most basic of these is called “active listening.” Now, I know what you’re thinking; this sounds like some goofy technique that simply states the obvious and wastes one’s time. The problem, however, is that most people consider themselves to be good listeners, but very few actually are.
An active listener does three important things:
First, he looks and sounds interested in the speaker. This requires looking directly at the speaker, maintaining eye contact if possible. By doing so, we let the speakers know that we are genuinely interested in what they have to say. (Admittedly, in many Western cultures, too much eye contact can make the speaker feel self-conscious. The key is to strike a balance, giving the speaker enough attention to convey understanding and interest.) It also helps to use vocalizations such as "uh-huh" and "yes" to encourage the speakers to continue.
Second, an active listener strives to adopt the speaker's viewpoint. Try to see things from her point of view—especially if you find yourself disagreeing! Avoid interrupting or finishing that person’s sentences. Even if you disagree, try to suppress your initial reactions and respond from the speaker's frame of reference, not your own. Expressing dissent too quickly can be disastrous, if one has not properly understood a colleague’s point of view. Of course, it may be necessary to express disagreement—perhaps even strong contention—but one shouldn't do that without thoroughly understanding the speaker's point of view.
Third, attempt to clarify the speaker's thoughts and feelings. This will help as one seeks to understand the other person. One way to do this is to ask open-ended questions, such as "How do you feel about this plan?” or “What is your specific recommendation?” rather than close-ended ones (e.g. "Is the plan on schedule?').
Another helpful approach is to use reflective listening techniques. Reflective listening is a powerful tool for ensuring that we have understood the speaker’s ideas—and it’s a great way to make that person feel that he has been listened to and appreciated. We’ll say more about reflective listening techniques in Part II of this article.
Active listening does not come naturally to most people. It is a skill that must be developed, but can be cultivated with only a modest amount of effort. Moreover, it is essential if we want to have smooth and effective meetings to go smoothly, in which we have properly understood the issues and everyone’s point of view.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
V. Berba Velasco Jr., Ph.D. is a senior electrical and software engineer at CTL (Europe, China), an ELISPOT products and services provider.