One of the most important skills for any PR practitioner is the ability to listen ‘effectively’. Invariably we receive high volumes of information that needs to be distilled and condensed into clear and consistent key messages. Effective listening is the first step in any strategic communications planning and forms the foundation of the relationship between a PR consultant and the client.
Everyone thinks they’re great listeners. What’s easier than sitting down and just hearing what a person has to say?
Hearing isn’t necessarily listening, nor is it necessarily listening well. As G.K. Chesterton said “there’s a lot of difference between hearing and listening.” The truth is, many people come to conversations with agendas, whether that is to make themselves heard, or to make themselves not heard, and to actually escape the conversation altogether. If you’re an introvert, you probably opt for the latter.
Here are some suggestions for developing your listening skills:
· Develop the desire to listen. You must accept the fact that listening to others is your strongest weapon. Given the opportunity, the other person will tell you everything you need to know.
· Always let the other person do most of the talking. This is a simple matter of mathematics. You listen 70% of the time and you talk 30% of the time.
· Don’t interrupt. There is always the temptation to interrupt so you can tell the other person something you think is vitally important. It isn’t, so don’t. When you are about to speak, ask yourself if it is really necessary.
· Learn active listening. It’s not enough that you’re listening to someone — you want to be sure that they know you’re listening. Active listening is the art of communicating to the other person that you’re hearing their every word.
· Ask for clarification if needed. This will clear up any misunderstanding you have.
· Get used to ‘listening’ for nonverbal messages — body language. The other person may be communicating with you via body language. You need to decode the message.
Ask a question…then shut up. This is a foolproof way to listen. Think of yourself as an interviewer. Once you have learned how to keep yourself from speaking, the art of asking questions is the shortcut to effective listening. Here are some tips for asking questions:
· Ask open-ended questions. Questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. “How could we do this?” “What do you think?” Your objective is to get them to talk as much as possible.
· Don’t ask questions that put them on the defensive. For example, “Why?” is intimidating. Don’t ask “why?” Ask “how come?”
· Ask “What if?” What if we did it this way?
· Ask for their advice. “What would you suggest we do to resolve this?” Everyone loves to be asked for advice.
· Offer alternatives. “Which way would you prefer?” This demonstrates your respect for the other person.
· Ask about their feelings. “How do you feel about this?” People love to have their feelings validated.
Repeat back what they said. “Let me be sure I understand what you’re saying. You’re saying that…?” This technique will prevent misunderstandings and convince them that you really are listening.
When you start to listen, you begin to hear not only the words, but also the texture of the words and the breath behind the words — the emotion and the story that is waiting to unfold. It’s easy to think of listening as a passive activity — something that happens naturally simply by being in the room or in front of a screen while somebody is talking. But it takes effort and focus. I find switching off all my devices, finding a comfortable spot and grabbing my notebook usually does the trick.
Listening makes you smarter!