Can you guess the average adult attention span for listening? Most say around 30 minutes. However, according to statistics, it’s only 7 seconds! That’s right – every seven seconds our brains take us somewhere else. If we’re listening, we need to make a conscious effort to stay engaged and resist the attempts of our brain to go somewhere else.
Listening is an effective way to forge a strong relationship with the other person or persons engaged in a conversation. It involves three steps:
- Receiving the message communicated by the sender
- Interpreting it for arriving at the meaning
- Responding to the message
If this process is to be complete and effective, you need to make a conscious effort in all the three steps – hearing and interpreting the sounds, grasping the meaning of words spoken (and unspoken), and responding appropriately. Otherwise, communication will get derailed and you will not get the expected results. With empathetic listening, you can build trust and help the other person open up. Eventually, you can get the best out of the conversation.
Stephen Covey mentions how active listening helped sales people increase their sales. In fact, the way sales people communicate with their customers is said to play an important role in the selling process (Corner and Drollinger, 1999). Listening is positively related to a buyer’s trust in and satisfaction with the salesperson. A conceptual model in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 2005 Taylor & Francis, Ltd. fills an important gap that links salesperson empathy and listening skills. The model indicates a strong positive relationship between empathy and the following: salesperson listening, trust in the salesperson, and satisfaction with the salesperson.
Empathetic listening works well in resolving disputes because you can understand the disputant well. You can reduce tension because you allow the person to be heard. Thus, you can bring the disputant to a possible solution through dialogue and without hurting his/her sentiments. Let us now look at a few aspects of empathetic listening.
1. Allow the other person to talk more
In active listening, it is not about you dominating the conversation but sharing the dialogue with your partner. So do not try to dominate the conversation by imposing your ideas on the other person. Instead, encourage the other person to express himself/herself more by expressing interest in what he/she is saying. In this regard, your body language plays an influential role, so ensure you use friendly gestures.
2. Keep asking questions
By asking the right question at the right time, you can help the other person express himself/herself better. Never sound interrogative. This will discourage your partner. Judiciously use open-ended questions such as ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘when’ and so on. Do not evaluate the other person’s statements critically. If you do not get a point, paraphrase his/her words and ask if you have understood him/her correctly.
3. Reflect on what is being said
The term empathetic means feeling the same way as the other person. This involves going beyond the literal meaning of the words and exploring the feelings attached to them by the speaker. This will give you a better idea of what the speaker is really feeling beneath his verbal communication. You can accordingly prepare your response so that it does not hurt the other person’s feelings.
By doing so, you convey the message that you respect the speaker and his/her feelings. Thus, you can build a positive relation with him/her. Once you earn his/her trust, you can mould his/her extreme opinions and bring him/her to an amicable solution. Thus, you can be a better communicator in disputes.
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