Many of the difficulties we face at work, or in our own lives, are often due to miscommunication in one form or another. At work, poor communication can lead to diminished collaboration, fruitless meetings, conflicts and overall dissatisfaction.
Communication can be influenced by many factors. First of all, our own personality, and the kind of relationship we have with the other person, will play an important role. The wider context in which the communication takes place will also determine its quality. This can be the atmosphere at work or other cultural factors in general.
For example, whereas in some cultures, making direct eye contact is seen as a sign of openness (“you have nothing to hide”) , in other cultures it can be perceived as offensive.
Imagine you start talking to your boss about an important problem, and he/she starts giving you advice before you’ve even had time to fully explain the situation. How would you feel?
One of the most important communication tools is active listening. Too often, people get into heated discussions without having first taken the time to really understand what the other person is saying.
By the way, listening doesn’t mean you need to agree with the other person but simply that you are open to hearing what they have to say- which is the first step to any real dialogue.
The 3 ingredients of active listening
When practicing active listening, you need to be fully present and engaged. You can do this by using the following 3 strategies.
Show the other person that you are listening and interested in what he/she has to say. This can be done by using verbal as well as non-verbal communication. Saying very simple things such as “yes”, “oh really?” or making utterances (Humh). Non-verbal communication might also include looking at the person, nodding, and having a relaxed and open body posture.
2 Check that you understood
By reflecting, paraphrasing and summarizing, you can check that you understood what has been said. The other person can then correct you, add information, or go further in their narration.
Paraphrasing is repeating what the other person said by using your own words. For example, John might say to his boss: “Mary hasn’t sent me the spread-sheets for this quarter yet. This is really a problem. She does this every time. I don’t think I will be able to finalize my report by the end of the week.”
Boss: “Mary hasn’t provided you with the information you needed yet. so you don’t think you will be able to finish your report on time?”
If the person has been talking for a while, you can also summarize what he/she said: “So, if I understand you correctly, this is what happened”
At a deeper level, you can also reflect the emotional layer of the communication: “So Mary didn’t send you the information on time. Do you feel kind of angry at her?”
You can also ask questions to clarify something that wasn’t clear to you. When doing this, the best way is to use open questions. Closed questions can only be answered in a given way (yes or no, A or B). Open questions invite the other person to say more. For example:
“What did you mean by,..?”
“Can you give me an example of when this happened last?”
Using active listening into your daily communication will result in fewer misunderstandings in the workplace and at home, and will contribute better relationships.