"Listen very carefully…I will say zis only once!"
Such was the catchphrase Michelle of the Resistance from the hit BBC comedy Allo, Allo, as she popped up unexpectedly. Pity poor René often showed little interest in what she had to say.
Few speakers wish to repeat what they have to say, meaning listening skills are vital. This is especially true during a speech evaluation, where not listening can mean a poor assessment.
Now there is listening and active listening.
What is active listening, I hear you ask?
Active listening means listening to a speaker with all your senses rather than being passive. It's making an effort to listen to others and understand the complete message. It's essential to show the speaker you are listening. This can be achieved via non-verbal indicators, such as nodding your head, maintaining eye contact and smiling.
Barriers to effective listening
Around 25% of what is spoken is actually heard and processed. Or put in another way, 3/4 of what is said is lost.
That is an awful lot of missed information, some of which could be crucial. Often looks like someone is listening when they are not. Looks can be deceiving! Here are a few barriers to effective listening:
Being judgemental, where the listener is too busy criticising the speaker in their head.
A poor environment can hinder listening; loud background noises and constant interruptions certainly don't help. This can be extended to Zoom and a poor Internet connection. It must be time to do my Norman Collier faulty microphone impression!
Some listeners listen solely to give advice to others; they could be formulating a response or what to advise instead of listening.
When a listener has a lot of personal problems in their life, they may be too busy focusing on these and their emotions. This is called self-protective listening.
Effective listening skills
Effective listening skills involve more than nodding your head periodically and making "mmm" sounds. Here are a few action points on how to improve your listening skills.
Be open-minded, and avoid jumping to conclusions. Restrain yourself from hooking in (using the end of someone's sentence to start speaking) and focus on what is being said rather than a potential response or solution.
Give the speaker time to finish what they have to say, rather than interrupting. Interrupting can be seen as a contest that only you can win, or worse still, you see yourself as more important.
Keep an open body posture by facing the speaker and maintaining eye contact. This shows you are ready to receive and serve.
Make a mental picture of what is being said and focus on a few keywords and phrases. We learn much better when something is visual, even in our heads. Force yourself to refocus if your mind wanders off during a long speech, especially if the speaker reads off a PowerPoint slide deck). It's tricky to do, but not impossible!
Finally, make suggestions and feedback to the speaker. Note this is different to providing a solution or making a judgement. Well crafted feedback can empower a speaker, even if it's constructive.
Benefits of effective listening
Listening is an integral part of how we communicate, and doing it well can serve us in many different ways.
Active listening helps you to avoid missing important information. It also builds trust between two people. In a conflict situation, active listening skills help us understand each side to come to a mutual agreement.
How often have you felt ignored, or as if no one has heard you? It's not a nice feeling, especially when you have an important message to deliver. No wonder Michelle of the Resistance seemed exasperated when René wasn't listening!
Listening and learning go hand in hand, as active listening skills help you become more knowledgeable.
In turn, you will become the speaker; hopefully, your audience will listen to you as you have listened to them.
Why not practice your listening skills and deliver a Toastmasters speech evaluation?