Diverse Professionals Survival Skills: Active Listening, Part 2
By Wim Dodson
Diverse professionals need to be more sensitive to their environment and to those they engage than do mainstream coworkers and job seekers. Listening in an active manner goes a long way toward fully engaging people, learning their orientation and benefiting from the interactions.
Different Strokes for Different Listeners
People listen in several different ways:
Competitive listening - You see this most often in married couples. Instead of listening to one’s spouse and reflecting what the partner has said, an individual rehearses what they want to say while the other talks. The same can be said about debaters, lawyers and politicians. Getting across their own point is the point of the discussion.
Passive listening - People in this position are in a high power-hierarchy situation. They are being talked at, not talked to or talked with. An authority figure has taken the mantle of lecturer while the listener has taken on the role of the receptive or captive audience. Seldom, however, does the listener really comprehend what the speaker is saying. Part of this is due to the tendency of the human brain to wander after a few minutes of focus. Also, the lack of interaction dulls the mind and other faculties. The listener puts the vehicle of her senses in neutral. Speakers tend not to know how listeners are receiving their message. Many lecturers and meeting leaders tend not to care if their audience is engaged.
Active listening - The next step on the ladder to better listening requires listeners to engage speakers. This involves reflecting the message you hear, rephrasing it or using your own words to describe what you gained from the conversation. Showing obvious interest in what others say goes a long way toward helping you remain engaged in the discussion. It also helps open the speaker up into revealing more information.
You can think of tactics to raise your active listening game into three parts: Reception, Comprehension, and Reflection.
Create an environment in which you can focus on the speaker without distraction;
Don’t fidget or show signs of restlessness.
Practice mirroring the speaker’s body language, subtly.
Frequently and respectfully reflect your understanding of what the speaker is saying;
Make notes of the keywords and main concepts of what the speaker says;
Delicately interrupt the speaker to ask questions to clarify ideas and meanings;
Rephrase and communicate to the speaker what you hear her say.
You can reflect or paraphrase what you hear on three levels: data or statistics, beliefs, and feelings.
Paraphrase the facts you heard the speaker cite. Parrot as objectively as possible the axioms the speaker cites. Reflecting data gives you both a platform you agree on and can open further understanding. If you’ve mistakenly quoted the speaker, you have an opportunity to see the topic under discussion from the speaker’s point of view.
Dig down more deeply into the speakers point of view by conveying the beliefs the facts are meant to bolster. This is not the time to agree or disagree with the speaker, but to merely be clear about their world view.
Echo the feelings with which the speaker communicates their feelings. If they are upset as they speak, observe out loud they are upset. This is not the context in which to parrot those feelings, however, which the speaker may find patronizing. They may also become defensive if you act out their feelings and shut down communications.
The mainstream business world confronts diverse professionals with a host of challenges. Minorities and other disadvantaged groups need every tool and skill at hand to succeed in environments in which they may feel invisible, or even discarded. Active listening skills are an effective way to rebalance relationships and achieve your goals, one interaction at a time.