Making Knowledge Work

August 28, 2010

Active Listening

Filed under: Communication — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 3:03 pm

Do you find it difficult to read to the end of an email message before deciding what it’s about?  Have you ever scanned the first few lines of a missive then hit ‘reply’ and dashed off a response?

I’ve done it lots of times, and had it done to me far too often!  It’s frustrating and time-consuming.  You end up having to send another email, repeating the question you asked or the statement you made in your original second line or paragraph.  What should have been a straightforward exchange can become a convoluted maze of misinterpretation…..

So now I try to keep email communication as clear and brief as possible: unambiguous subject line, short sentences, clear statement of the action I’d like the recipient to take.

I try to do that every time, but don’t always succeed.

Active listening is a much harder habit to adopt.  When listening actively you need to give the person speaking your undivided attention – it’s important not to allow intrusive sounds or other conversations around you to catch your ear.  You must fight the temptation to begin formulating your response before you’ve fully heard what the speaker has to say.  You have to let the other person finish their point – not jumping in early, for example, to counter their argument.  On top of that, you need to avoid assumptions – if you’re not completely sure what’s being said or meant, you need to ask for clarification.  And, when it comes to responding, you have to “do as you would be done by”:  delivering your reply with the same respect and consideration you expect to receive.

Demanding stuff!  It takes a lot of concentration and self-discipline (well, I find it so), and it’s hard enough to do in ideal acoustic circumstances.  So in the pub the other night after the LIKE picnic I was finding it darned near impossible.  Moving from the relaxed environment of the York & Albany’s downstairs room to the Edinboro Castle was too great a contrast for my ears to cope with.  I was fine when sitting very close to my conversational companions, but the minute they moved more than arms length away their voices were drowned in a tidal wave of music, clanking glasses, hearty laughter and dozens of other deafening conversations….  Found myself wishing I could lip-read.

The chats I had and heard were well worth actively listening to though.  LIKE members invariably share fascinating insights to their expertise and interests.  And it was good to have the chance to talk to Luisa Jefford and Tracey South about the next LIKE meeting where we’ll focus on what it means to be an “Info Pro” in the 21st century, and strip away the jargon to examine the practical skills we all use to build the businesses we’re associated with.

The group gathering at the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell will have a great range of backgrounds, experience and skills.  So there’ll be lots of opportunity to practice active listening, and learning.  And the upstairs room, the Apollo Lounge, should have just the right acoustic – an off-switch for the music speakers, and a solid Victorian door to act as a baffle against the bar noise from downstairs.

Active listening is, of course, only part of the successful communication equation.  Considered speaking is another essential component.  Organising your thoughts, employing brevity, eschewing jargon – all come into play.  If a person, or an audience, has extended the courtesy of giving you their attention, it’s your duty to be as clear and concise as possible.

So, if you’ve read this far, thank you.  Enough said!

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