When it comes to listening, most people are only proficient at half of Merriam-Webster’s definition which is, “to hear what someone has said and understand that it is serious, important, or true.” I know my colleagues and family members can hear me, however I often discover that they weren’t really listening after the conversation has ended—which can be extremely frustrating.
According to research by Harvard Business Review, over half (54%) of employees feel they don’t regularly get respect from their employers. In addition to not feeling respected, many employees don’t feel that they are listened to, nor that their opinions are valued. Here are three phrases worth adopting to demonstrate that you are actively listening.
- “It sounds like…” Stating this phrase is your opportunity to show empathy. Dale Carnegie’s 17th Human Relations principle, ‘Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view,’ is a reminder to put ourselves in the speaker’s position. When a colleague shares that they’re struggling with a project, for example, responding with, “It sounds like you may need to…” demonstrates not only that we heard what they said, but that we care enough about them to offer advice or lend a hand. Simply nodding or responding with one of our personal complaints may be interpreted as not listening or worse yet, not caring about the other person.
- “Let me make sure I’ve got this right.” Dale Carnegie’s 11th principle is, ‘Show respect for the other person’s opinion. Never say, “You’re wrong.”’ Sometimes, we only half-hear what someone is saying because we are passively listening which can result in confusion and dissension, or worse yet—an argument. Dale Carnegie said, “Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers.” Instead, the next time you hear something with which you disagree or about which you are unsure, say, “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying,” before responding entirely. Summarize what you heard and allow the other person to agree or clarify their original statement. This approach ensures both parties are heard and reinforces mutual respect.
- “Do you mean…?” Sometimes we misinterpret what others are saying because we don’t take non-verbal communication into account. Someone may say that they love our new idea as they slowly recline into their chair, retreating away from us and crossing their arms across their chest. In this example, verbal and non-verbal communication are incongruent. Following up by rephrasing what they’ve said and asking a clarifying question, e.g. “Do you really think it’s a viable solution?” gives the other person an opportunity to refine their message. It also gives us a second chance at actively listening to what they have to say. This is particularly important with colleagues who tend to be sarcastic, curt or dismissive. Instead of taking what they have to say personally, follow-up with this clarifying statement to ensure you’ve interpreted the information correctly.