Conversations are an important part of our everyday life. In 1999, the US Department of Labor declared that 46% of those who quit their jobs did so because they weren’t being listened to. In this article, I will discuss some of the reasons why active listening is so important.
We’ve all been there at one point or another; trying to have a conversation with someone and they constantly talk over you, or they answer a different question to the one you have just asked, or maybe they just completely ignored your question and prattled on about themselves some more. How did it make you feel? Not great, right?
We’ve also all been guilty of being on the other side and not listening. We could be distracted by something that’s been on our mind, we could be really excited about what we want to talk about, or we might just be generally not interested.
According to James Borg, in his book [Persuasion], we talk at a rate of 100-200 words per minute, yet we think at a rate of 600-800 words per minute. It’s no wonder that our minds wander off sometimes. However, by controlling those thoughts we can apply ourselves to the conversation we are currently having and get the best out of it.
This is known as “active Listening”, which I’m sure you have heard of before. And here is why it is an important skill to master:
One of the aspects of active listening is to re-state your understanding of what was just said to you. For instance, you might be a systems engineer having a conversation with a design engineer about how a new system works:
You: “So, let me get this straight – the widget prevents the system from surges by clipping the signal if it exceeds a certain value?”
Designer: “No, it prevents surges by COMPRESSING the signal if it exceeds a certain value. This prevents high frequency artefacts caused by clipping”
Had you not checked your understanding, you would have gone off with an incorrect understanding and may have turned down a product being offered, or designed a completely redundant system around a misunderstanding.
By actively listening in a conversation, your mind is completely on the conversation and your thoughts are all around the conversation. This enables you to come up with questions to do with the subject, which you could learn from. So, following on from the above example, you might have gone on to ask:
You: “So, how does the widget sense the signal strength, and how does it need to integrate into the existing design?”
By actively listening in conversations, you are showing an interest in somebody – be it them as a person, what they are teaching, what they are selling etc. You might be talking to a friend who is going through a particularly bad patch. They are trying to tell you about something that is really bugging them. By showing an interest in their problems, asking questions about it and trying to talk them through possible solutions, your relationship will strengthen. One day, you might be in that same position and they will be more likely to return the favour.
Had you dismissed their problems and continued to prattle on about the football results from the previous night they will bottle up their problems, feel rejected and will be less likely to be as open with you in the future. So by not practising active listening, you could actually damage relationships, as well as people’s feelings.
I’ve just shown several ways in which active listening can benefit you. Have you had any experiences where active listening has improved your life? Or on the other side, have you had any experiences where things have gone wrong by not actively listening? Leave a comment below.