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Active Listening is an Effective
Listening Skill and Strategy

Nonverbal Communication in Business

Active listening is an essential skill for anyone in contact with people. Use theories of communication, nonverbal communication in business and managing techniques to build your communication skills. For business owners and managers this is particularly important when working with key stakeholders such as clients, employees, suppliers and others in your community or network.

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When you have discussions with your staff or your customers, commonly there is one person talking and the others are listening.

But often what's happening is that the listener is already forming their reply or may be thinking about something else entirely; in other words not listening at all.

And in today's busy work environment, most of us hardly have time to listen actively because we're busy multi-tasking. For example, how often do you go out for a coffee or lunch or dinner with someone or with a group of people and at least one of them is texting on their smart phone while someone's talking?!

How Effective is Communication
Without Active Listening?

Not very, particularly in stressful or conflict situations.

Listening actively is very effective in sales and customer service situations. Key account management is successful when you have account managers and good customer service representatives who are effective communicators.

You need to focus your sales force management efforts on ensuring you have a group of strong communicators. And, if you need to improve effective listening in your sales group, consider the advantages of outsourcing. Then focus the sales management consulting firm on developing stronger listening skills.

The 'almost listening' approach is very common (we live in a world of multi-taskers); and this is even more true when the discussion or communication is one where you are trying to defend a position. If you are on the defense, your mind is focused on building the response; it is not focused on what the other person is saying to you.

So in conflict situations, where an angry customer is yelling at you about the mistake your company made, your instinctive response is likely to be mentally building your defense instead of actively listening to your customer's concern or complaint.

This is not an effective response. If you are so centered on formulating your reply; it is likely that you will present yourself as uncaring, or even as not listening. That only infuriates the angry customers, or employees, or associates, even more.

Actively listening to what the other person is saying means you must focus on that person, rather than on your response. It also means that you need to keep your mind open to listening from their perspective; not yours. Do not rush to judgment.

Theories of Communication:
How to Listen Actively:

  1. While the other person is talking, you must concentrate on not talking. Pay attention. Look directly at the speaker.
  2. While the other person is talking, listen, don't prepare your reply. Focus hard on this and practice listening, not responding.
  3. Ask for time to respond if you need it (a few minutes, later, tomorrow).
  4. Pay attention to how the person is behaving (e.g. yelling or screaming is a pretty clear indicator, but not all behaviors are that obvious).
  5. Pay attention to the person's body language.
  6. Demonstrate that you are listening: use your body language to affirm that you are listening, e.g. nod your head or shake your head.
  7. Paraphrase or translate what the person said; reflect it back to them. This is called reflective listening; you reflect back what you think you have heard. It is a good technique for ensuring there is clear understanding.
    • For example, in dealing with angry customers focus on how you think they feel: "So that I'm sure that I understand clearly, you seem to be frustrated with our shipping time..."
    • Another example, in dealing with a question from an employee: "I want to make sure I understand your request clearly; you need to work shorter days due to your school schedule."
    • You are not necessarily agreeing with their position, you are re-stating what they said to ensure understanding and clarity.
  8. Recognize the individual's feelings: "you seem to be frustrated"; "you sound angry"; "you seem to be upset"

Active Listening and Managing Techniques

Often when you are in a stressful situation or in a conflict situation, you will want to defend or deny: defend your position or deny the other individual's position. That approach typically doesn't work to eliminate the stress or the conflict; in fact often it increases the conflict.

It is your role as the small business owner to demonstrate how effective leaders handle this type of situation. Show your employees how you communicate: active listening, and trying to understand the meaning of what the person is saying, develops a better opportunity for cooperating and conflict resolution.

Listen to the speaker, then repeat what you thought the listener said (by paraphrasing or reflective listening).

If you've interpreted what the speaker said incorrectly, then this is their opportunity to correct you and further explain their position.

The benefit of active listening is that you will better hear what others say and be better able to understand their emotional response if you listen, rather than prepare your own response.

This listening skill can be used effectively when managing change, or when you need to work on problem solving.

Techniques that can help manage change, solve problems, reduce anger and frustration will help you focus on your business growth and achieving your small business plan.

Misunderstandings are often minimized or eliminated through listening more actively and giving the speaker the opportunity to confirm your understanding.

In an environment of open listening, people on both sides of the issue will open up more and be less defensive. The opportunity to resolve the conflict is much more likely.

Nonverbal Communication in Business

In addition to active listening, nonverbal communication in business is another communication strategy; it is communication through gestures, movement and touch. Theories of communication state that messaging can be stronger through nonverbal communication. In business, a combination of active listening and nonverbal techniques can strengthen the communication process.

In today's online environment it is harder to add that element of communication; and in fact, written communications are often 'mangled' by short forming text messages.

Communication is critical for achieving understanding.

The more you use active listening as a part of your communications style, the more trust you will build amongst your employees, co-workers, customers, and other stakeholders.

Build stronger communication skills. Be self-aware (in terms of how you respond, listen, interact). You will build better working relationships.

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