I have a bad habit of not looking up from my cell phone when someone is talking to me. I am listening, yes, but I am not giving that impression. When I keep my attention on my phone, I’m sending the non-verbal message that I am not listening.
In communication studies the person talking is called the “sender” and the person listening is called “the receiver”. When the receiver has their head down, looking at their phone, or doing something else, they are not as engaged in the conversation as the sender might like. I need to teach myself how to put down the phone and become a better receiver. Here are three keys to becoming an effective receiver.
- Take a moment to digest the sender’s body language. When a message is being delivered, a lot of it is going to be inferred through the non-verbal messages displayed by the speaker. Your job as the receiver is to make inferences to what is being said and how it is being displayed by the presenter. Your sender’s body language is going to tell you a lot of things that are "unsaid" in the presentation and it’s important to watch for those signals, and not just listen to the words with your head down in your laptop or your smartphone.
- Resist the urge to finish the sender’s thoughts or sentences. When listening, there is a temptation to try and think about how you are going to respond. The problem with this is that you develop preconceived notions of the message that is being sent and it’s not always an easy task to dismiss the assumptions you’ve made when you “think ahead” of the speaker. You don’t want to miss the message because you’re trying to figure it out. Bonus: One way to practice this is to wait 5 seconds after someone talks before you respond. We don’t recommend this as a permanent fix because it will feel awkward and you might look crazy.
- Give the sender some feedback. No, you don’t need to interrupt the sender to give them feedback. Much like how you will be watching their nonverbal movements to make sure you are also sending non-verbal signals. Make eye contact or nod along with your speaker to show you’re actively engaged.
In order to be an effective receiver, you need to focus on your active listening skills. Beyond these tips there are plenty more things you can do to be an active listener.
What other keys necessary to be an effective receiver?