Listening is Priceless: 5 Goals for Effective Listening

“There is no such thing as a worthless conversation provided you know what to listen for and questions are the breath of life for a conversation.” James Nathan Miller

By Valarie Washington

The shortest distance between two communication points is shared meaning – why are we communicating at all? To listen means to receive the information unfiltered and respond appropriately to the message. The goal of the listener is to get the message. Listen for the intent. Listen for the action. What does the person really want you to know, do or think as a result of the dialogue?

To reach the goal an effective listener must:

  1. Attend: make a conscious decision to listen. Make eye contact and give full attention to the speaker. Concentrate on the message and block out all distractions.

  2. Engage: demonstrate interest and encourage the speaker through verbal and non-verbal cueing. Show openness toward the speaker and prompt them by nodding or saying things like “please continue…” or “go on…”

  3. Suspend: exercise patience and suspend judgment about what is being said. Don’t try to evaluate whether the speaker is saying the right thing or saying it the right way. Hear the message as it is being delivered and ask for clarification if necessary without accusing, blaming or demanding.

  4. Learn: be open to ideas, views and opinions that may differ from your own. Every conversation is a learning opportunity if you use it gain insight and perspective about the speaker rather than using the speaker’s words to create a platform for your own thoughts.

  5. Connect: check-in with the speaker. It allows for building collaboratively toward the message learning along the way. Find the connections to the speaker’s ideas, their intents and most importantly the actions that they want in return. Use questions for clarification to build toward the message.

To build connection the listener should ask about the speaker’s GOAL:
  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How much time do we have (you need) for discussion?
  • How quickly do you need a response?
  • Can you give me a headline?
  • Is there a particular theme that I should listen for?
Ask questions for clarification of the speaker’s INTENT:
  • Do you need me simply to listen?
  • Would you like my opinion?
  • Are you asking for assistance?
  • Do you need my agreement?
Ask for clarification of terms or WORDS:
  • When you say report do you mean a formal document or a status update?
  • You mentioned campaign; is that the marketing or the giving campaign?
  • When you said best solution, are you speaking in terms of price or quality?
  • When you say Friday, do you mean this Friday or next Friday?
Summarise the speaker’s MESSAGE?
  • If I understand you correctly…
  • You’ve outlined our next steps for the project…
  • What I heard you say was…
  • To recap the conversation…
Confirm understanding of speaker’s need for ACTION or RESPONSE?
  • How would like for me to proceed?
  • What would like for me to do with the information?
  • What would you like (do you need) me to do or not do?
  • My role then would be to…

As you listen with purpose and ask linking rather than leading questions, the answers you receive will signal how close you are to the heart of the speaker’s message and what the speaker wants and needs from you in return.

Valarie is the CEO of Think 6 Results – a knowledge broker passionate about learning and improving performance in organisations. She’s a writer, presenter and executive coach on a mission to get every employee and organisation focused on, and thinking about, the six key business-driving goals.

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