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I remember a story we used to read when I was a child that highlighted the difference between listening and hearing. A child regularly heard her parent’s instructions but didn’t really listen. As a result, she continually disobeyed and ended up being confronted about her poor listening habits.
In a group setting, it is easy to hear what everyone is saying but to not really listen. Nothing can kill a discussion faster than not really listening to what others are saying, and nothing will promote discussion more than people’s realization that they are really being listened to.
You have probably many times found yourself in a conversation in which you were nodding your head and maintaining eye contact the whole time your counterpart spoke, but really all you heard was,”blah, blah, blah.” The problem is: when it is your turn to speak, you’ll likely fumble and bumble trying to make sense because you really have no idea how to respond.
Sometimes we fail to listen because we are distracted.
Sometimes we fail to listen because we are confused.
Sometimes we fail to listen because we are thinking of what we want to say next.
Sometimes we are thinking about how to respond to a previous statement.
Sometimes we don’t listen simply because we don’t care.
Likely, there are other reasons as well why we don’t listen.
Active listening requires us to not just hear and process the words and thoughts being communicated by others, but also to follow up with questions and statements designed to bring clarity. If I am successfully leading a discussion, I must ensure that not only is everyone heard, but that they are understood. I can accomplish this by being an “active listener.”
Here are some simple ways to be an active listener:
- Follow up with a question.
- Follow up by restating their point in your own words.
- Follow up by summarizing their point.
- Ask the person to clarify part of their statement which might have been confusing.
- Restate a specific phrase or sentence, and add your opinion.
As with many other skills, active listening is a skill that needs to be developed over time. The best way to become better is to intentionally remind yourself before every group meeting that you are going to make an effort to be a more active listener. After each meeting, evaluate yourself.