BECOMING AN ACTIVE LISTENER
By Christopher Salvatore & Dominick Tuzzo
But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction. Jeremiah 17:23
Listening is an act that we think we do well everyday. There is always someone who says “Yeah, I’m a real good listener.” Not really, listening is not a natural act for us, it takes practice and concentration. There is another section on this leadership site that deals with the communication process, so I won’t go into that, but listening is one of the most important parts of the communication process. It is the part where we decode the information that is given to us, and if the information is not decoded properly, bad things can happen. Most people would be a little put out if they discovered that they were not good listeners. Remember in my last post when I suggested that you actually pay attention the next time you conversed with someone? Did anyone do that? It is surprising and a little shaming how poorly we actually listen. To most people listening is really just waiting for a chance to interrupt and make our own point. Seriously, we all do it, we are formulating our response while the other person is talking and we are getting maybe 10% of the message if we are lucky. This is where miscommunication happens, we get part of the information, and that is
what we act on, right or wrong.
Active listening is what we should strive for. Active listening is a skill that can be acquired with practice and has four steps. Step 1) Be open and unbiased. Simple enough, if you think about it but sometimes hard to accomplish, because we all have preconceived notions. It is when we carry these notions into conversations that communication breaks down. Something that works for me is when I am speaking with someone, I tell myself, “I know nothing about this subject and the person I am speaking to is a subject matter expert”. Even if they are not, I am still trying to actively listen. Step 2) Hearing literally. This basically means hear the words. Step 3) Interpret the data. This can be as simple as actually understanding the words and formulating ideas of what is being said or as difficult as interpreting the tone and inflection of the speaker. Step 4) Acting on the data received, meaning the response.
I think if I had to pick one of these steps to focus on it would be Step 3). I picked this one for a pretty simple reason; people rarely say what they mean. Let me give an example; I was a civilian police officer for eight years before I went back in the military. I had been on the job for about six years and I was breaking in a new guy. We responded to a call where a house had been burglarized. The shift was just about over when we rolled up to the house. I told my partner that this was his to handle. We knock on the door and the owner answered, seemingly anything but glad to see us. The start of the conversation went something like this: “Where the blank have you guys been?” “I called nearly twenty blanking minutes ago”. “My blanking taxes pay your blanking salaries and this is bull stuff.” I could literally see my partner’s shoulders tense up and I could hear the intake of breath as he got ready to let this guy have it. If I had let it go this could have gotten real bad real fast. I pinched him gently on the triceps and shook my head. Now back to the previous posts, if he had said the first thing that came to his mind it probably would have sounded like this: “Hey you stupid blanker, we got here as fast as we blanking could, why don’t you give us a blanking break?” That would have wound up with both our badge numbers being written down and a civilian complaint in our records. Like I said before people rarely say what they mean. This man was scared and angry and he didn’t mean any of those things he said. What he was really trying to say was “I am frightened.” “Can I get any of my stuff back?” “How can I stop this from happening again?” “Why do I feel like I’ve just been violated?” Those are the words that I reacted to, I didn’t react to the spoken words, and I had to interpret them through the anger and fear. That is why interpretation is so important.
The final point in my listening blog is; we must, I repeat must listen to ourselves when we speak. For this I will go back to the boss example in my previous post. When someone thinks they have said something, no amount of argument will convince them that they actually didn’t say it. The boss in the previous example is probably sure he said he needed his such and such by 9:00, and is his mind it was said, even though it wasn’t. You didn’t hear 9:00 and he didn’t say 9:00 but “doggone it” the boss says I know I said 9:00. Has this ever happened to you? It has happened to me more than once and the best thing to do is roll with it, take the punch and press on. This is my opinion, and only mine but we are called to humility, and making a big deal out of little butt chewing won’t solve any problems and has a greater chance of creating more problems. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble 1 Peter 5:5. One thing people should know, whose jobs involve a lot of communication is when to pick the battles and knowing when to let it slide. Listening effectively and actively is the key to that knowing.
1) This question has two parts, and is going to rely on the honor system. The first, would you describe yourself as an active listener? Whether you answered yes or no, the next conversation you have use these guidelines given above to see if you are indeed an active listener or if you are just waiting to interrupt, and then come back to this and answer the question again. I humbled myself with this question.
2) Describe (IN YOUR OWN WORDS) The 4 Steps of Active Listening.