Effective Listening Skills
Listening requires more than just hearing
By Helen Hirsh Spence and Debra Yearwood
Effective listening is an important life skill. It has value whether you are a team member, facilitator, parent, spouse, or friend. The ability to listen well to others, to not only hear but to understand, is an essential skill for entrepreneurs. Listening is also one of the most underrated and unappreciated leadership skills. It has the ability to build trust, respect and resolve conflicts. The following tips will help with your effective listening skills.
What is Effective Listening?
Effective listening skills are comprised of five elements. They are:
- Asking questions
- Expressing empathy
- Rephrasing or reflective listening
- Acknowledging, and
- Use of silence
Different types of questions lead to different results. The skilled listener knows when to use different types of questions. There are two types of questions: open-ended and closed-ended questions.
- Closed-ended questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Such as “Do you live here?” or “Are you interested in ….?” This type of question leaves little room to learn new information.
- Open-ended questions require the other person to think and offer some of their own thoughts.
An open-ended question normally begins with what, where, why or how.
- How can I help you?
- What seems to be the challenge?
- What happened this morning?
- Why are you upset?
- Where were you when you heard?
Situations For Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions can be useful in a number of situations:
- To transition from one discussion to the next: “Before we finish here, what other thoughts do you have on this issue?”
- To include someone in the discussion: “Daisy, how do you feel about this subject?” “John, what’s your experience with this type of thing?”
- To start a conversation: “What do you think about the new marketing plan?” Or, “How did you feel about our sales?”
- To bring a conversation back on topic: “What other information do we need to make a decision?” Or, “What other steps should we take to complete this project?”
- To begin to resolve a conflict: “How do you feel about…?” or “What are your views on…?”
Open-Ended Questions for Customers/Clients
- What else can I help you with today?
- What can I do to improve your experience with us?
- What would be the best-case scenario for you?
- How do you feel about…?
An empathy statement expresses how you think the other person feels and why. Showing empathy to someone helps them to feel a part of the group. It can create unity and reduce the tendency to respond negatively or defensively. Everyone needs to know that they are understood.
Applying Empathy Statements
You can use empathy statements in a number of situations:
- To overcome strong emotions that may reduce rational thinking and conversation. Making an empathy statement to someone who is expressing pain or anger can diffuse those feelings. Empathy is like someone holding your hand, letting you know that they understand. For example, “I can see that you are really hurt; that you were embarrassed in front of your friends.”
- To encourage other people to listen. If others feel that you genuinely recognize the emotions of a member of the team, they are more likely to feel empathy and listen to the other person.
- To relieve anxiety about discussing a problem publicly. Many of us prefer to keep things to ourselves, even when a group discussion is needed. Empathy statements help to reduce anxiety and make it easier to communicate. A statement such as “I can understand that you are concerned about….” can help move past feelings of awkwardness.
- “It sounds as if you feel… (put in a feeling word) … because… (reason).”
- For example: “It sounds as if you feel that we don’t have the resources for this project because everyone is too busy.”, “It sounds as if you feel anxious because you have to make that presentation tomorrow”
- “It must be…(feeling word)…when…(reason).”
- For example: “It must be frustrating to work so hard on a project when no one else appears to recognize that work.”
- Or, “It must be irritating when it seems that no one is listening to your point of view.”
- “I can understand that…(reason)…would make you…(feeling word).”
- For example: “I can understand that the amount of time it took us to make a decision would make you upset.”
- Or, “I can understand that getting appointed to this new job would be very exciting for you.”
Empathy Statements for Customers
- “I would feel the same in your place, but we will sort this out…”
- “I realize that this situation is difficult, but let’s try and find a solution.”
- “I’m sorry you are having this problem. Let’s see if there is anything we can do to help.”
Rephrasing / Reflective Listening
Rephrasing (sometimes called reflective listening or paraphrasing) is a way of verifying your understanding of what you think the other person meant. What we mean when we speak and what other people hear or interpret are not always the same. When we rephrase, it is acting as an echo but using our own words to make sure we understood the other person’s meaning. An example of rephrasing is saying, “This is what I heard… Is that right?” Then the other person can agree or clarify. They will feel like you are really listening.
Rephrasing is particularly helpful to:
- Help someone express emotions. “What I hear you saying is that you feel very good about that and it makes you proud.”
- Clarify someone’s statements. “It sounds as if you are ready to try something new.”
- Resolve conflicts between people. “I hear you saying that we need to do things differently in the future, and I heard Peter say that he also felt this way.”
- To get at a broader understanding of the problem that may have been shared. “It sounds like this is not just about doing things differently, but about our attitude towards our work.”
Example of rephrasing with a customer
Customer: Hi, I am not able to login to my account.
Support Staff: I’m so sorry. Could you describe to me what happens when you try?
Customer: I enter my username and password, hit enter, and then I get a box that says “no account exists.”
Support Staff: So when you enter your username and password, instead of logging into your dashboard, the system sends you a “no account exists” message?
- Acknowledging is positive reinforcement designed to strengthen the behaviour of the other person by communicating your approval.
- Acknowledging can be as simple as nodding your head in agreement or understanding.
Or by verbally expressing your understanding or agreement, such as, “I understand that” or, “That’s a good point.”
Effective listening is not complex. It is about communicating your willingness to hear the views, concerns and challenges being expressed by the other person. Effective listening skills are also good for business as they result in more productivity, better problem-solving and stronger interpersonal skills.