Are You Listening?

By Carole Sue Jones

Are you listening, really listening?  Knowing that the human brain can process information four times as fast as the mouth can speak; listening becomes a skill that requires attention and practice, and a skill that is essential to all CallCenter employees. We listen to gather facts, form opinions, make decisions and lend support.  We listen to get a response, clarity about a task, or to improve communication.  Being a good listener means focusing, while using control and concentration to review critical data.  So how do we become effective listeners?

Levels of Listening

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In order to improve our listening abilities, we need to understand that there are different levels of listening.  Depending on how engaged we become with the sounds and information around us, we use different levels of listening.

The first level of listening is the act of hearing, which is a physical function.  Our ears pick up the ambient noises in the environment and our brain filters out those things that are unrelated to our mind’s work.  Be quiet for just a moment and identify what you hear.  Did you hear the heater or air conditioning kicking on or off, your computer hard drive processing, the low murmur of conversations happening around you, the muffled sounds of the world outside your window?  Our bodies automatically pick up those sounds and process them, but the sounds don’t really penetrate into our awareness until we stop to pay attention to them.

The second level of listening is passive listening.  Passive listening involves paying attention to what someone is saying while subconsciously processing ideas from another source.  In passive listening, you may be trying to ingest what you are actually listening to as your brain takes in other sounds or things that are happening around you.  Imagine you are at the movie theatre and the people in front of you are talking.  This makes you have to split your attention between the movie, which is why you are there, and the distraction of the people speaking.   This is passive listening.

The third level of listening is called active listening.  Active listening means being fully engaged in both hearing the message and processing the information.  You are focused on source and may be contemplating a response.   In active listening, you listen with your body and your face, making gestures and impressions that allow the source to know that they are your focal point. Active listening means to be fully engaged in the listening process.

How do you practice active listening?

There are several things you can do to practice active listening.  By applying these suggestions you will improve your listening skills.

  • Concentrate on what the other person says
  • Acknowledge what they say  with verbal  clues such as, “uh-huh”, “ok”, “I see”
  • Respond with your face and body, using nonverbal clues such as leaning forward, nodding you head, or through a facial expression
  • Take notes, but do not focus all your attention on the note taking
  • Alleviate the opportunity for distractions
  • Avoid assumptions
  • Ask questions  for understanding or to clarify their position
  • Don’t interrupt; give the other person time to complete their thoughts

What are the benefits of active listening?

A recent study found that 80% of responding executives rated listening as the most important skill in the workplace, while 28% rated listening as the skill most lacking in the workplace.  By practicing active listening you can increase communication, lessen confusion, throughout the company, with employees, customers, and shareholders.

By putting active listening into practice you will become more comfortable communicating with people and find yourself applying active listening to more of your everyday interactions.  Go get active, and listen, really listen.

Carole Sue Jones is a Trainer and Instructional Designer with 10 years of experience in Call Center Management and Training.

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About the Author: Greg Meares

As a Sr. Consultant for Performance Connections, Inc., Greg's primary objective is to provide value to organizations that are focused on raising brand awareness. Additionally Greg works on improving the customer experience, through business process re-engineering, and call center best practices. Greg is an industry expert and is often called upon to provide his analysis and solution oriented approach to improving performance in the BPO and Call Center industry.

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