Effective listening and questioning skills are the most critical skills to possess. Some people are excellent conversationalists and smoothly tackle all kinds of difficult conversations. These people have mastered the art of active listening and effective questioning. Listening effectively plays a significant impact in job effectiveness and the quality of personal relationships. Similarly, well-structured and articulated questions help in digging deeper for more thoughtful and reflective responses. Though these are essential skills, not many are skilled at them.
Effective Listening skills
Listening is conscious activity and requires attention to detail. Therefore, instead of waiting for your turn to speak, you are required to listen attentively to entirely understand what the other person is saying and where they are coming from. That said, it is pointless to ask any questions if you don’t intend to listen effectively to their answer.
Listening effectively or actively implies that you put everything else out of your mind and acknowledge the person in front of you. As a result, they feel heard and valued by what they say. Understanding and valuing do not mean agreement; effective listening is specifically significant in situations of conflict or disagreement, where one party, for instance, feels you understand their perspective, a cooperative atmosphere can be created, which improves the chances of resolving the dispute.
Effective listening is an organized way of listening and responding to people:
This includes perceiving, paying attention to what is being said, remembering the details, and then repeating the message using the same words that the speaker used.
It includes perceiving, paying attention to details, remembering the important points, and then reflecting and reasoning about it. Finally, you’ll be rendering the information using not the exact words but similar or synonymous words and phrase arrangements as the speaker used.
It includes perceiving, paying attention, remembering, thinking, and reasoning, and lastly, rendering the details by using your own words and sentences.
Developing Key Skills for Effective Listening
Some of the critical skills for developing effective listening are highlighted below:
- Body language plays a great role in listening effectively:
- Avoid fidgeting and try to stay still.
- Face the person you are interacting with and have an open posture to create rapport.
- Use eye contact and welcoming facial expressions to show your attention and concern.
- Let the other person speak and let them do the talking:
- Be silent and actively encourage the person to talk; acknowledge their willingness to communicate.
- Refrain from interrupting.
- Refrain from pre-judgment on what is being said and emphasize understanding precisely what the other person is saying and what the speaker means.
- Avoid thinking about your answer or response while the speaker is talking. It would be best to wait until the speaker is done—active listening needs 100% of your focus and concentration.
- Although it may be tempting, don’t try to end their sentences or fill in the blanks.
- Try to note the non-verbal cues, like tone, body language, and pitch of the voice, and listen to the underlying feelings and emotions and words and facts.
- Be comfortable with silences as staying silent offers time and opportunity for the person to give detailed information. If you aren’t familiar with it, you may find it awkward and odd initially. However, you’ll marvel at how more information can emerge after some silence.
- Listen strategically and inquisitively:
- Strategic Listening—seek meaning beyond the spoken words to understand the fundamental driving forces and motivations, and needs. It involves reading between the lines and listening to things that were not even said and also the ones that were.
- Inquisitive Listening—actively listen for exciting chunks of information in the dialogue that can help in forming a solution or answer.
- Effectively use questions wherever possible.
- Reflect and narrate back the information you heard from the speaker to show your understanding and give room for clarification. Effectively use acknowledging, paraphrasing, and reflective statements.
Obstacles in Effective Listening
- Shallow Listening:
Listeners tend to believe they already know what the speaker means and jumps to answer or respond. The shallow listening’s underpinned by pride and arrogance, and thus, the listener fails to comprehend what is being shared.
- Cursory Listening
The listener is either multi-tasking or uninterested in what is said and only goes through the motion.
Albert Einstein has famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” Many people concentrate on getting the correct answer instead of seeking the right questions. Every one of us can benefit from a culture of high philosophical values and the continual questioning of priorities and the meaning of everything. Effective questioning is a crucial skill to develop and excel in life.
Some key characteristics of a powerful question are:
- Invigorates the curiosity in the listener.
- Stimulate the reflective conversation.
- Brings the underlying assumptions upfront.
- Generates new possibilities and creativity.
- Excites energy and forward motion.
- Increases attention and emphasizes inquiry.
- Stays with the participants of the conversation.
- Touches deep and meaningful essence.
- Evokes various questions.
It tends to expand beyond the place where it started into more extensive networks of conversations in the organization or a community. Impactful questions that travel well are usually critical to large-scale change.
Although it is not a straightforward tactic, asking and answering questions is a vital component of daily conversations for everybody. We might think that questioning is a natural skill possessed by everybody; it is still not as easy as we may think. Questions should be structured in a way to help the other person to arrive at a decent conclusion or to offer insights and information facilitating the discussion.
There are a variety of question types that can be utilized for different purposes. For example, some questions direct the conversation, and some facilitate to reach closure.
- Open questions—to gather facts and information.
- Reflective questions—to check and to understand.
- Probing questions—to gain additional detail.
- Hypothetical questions
To suggest some approach or introduce new ideas to the person or people.
- Deflective questions
To diffuse an aggressive situation. Dealing with the strong negation or objection by responding with the same force can lead to a conflict. Deflection questioning can help in transforming the negative situation into a collective problem-solving scenario.
- Leading questions
To facilitate the person in concluding or have an idea that can be beneficial. For example, some planned and structured questions can usually lead the person to a vision rather than responding to your request.
Developing Questioning Skills
Suggestions for developing phenomenon or healthy questioning skills:
- Talk less and ask impactful and meaningful questions.
- Think through and thoroughly the questions you are going to ask.
- Ask more questions that help the person to reflect and ponder deeply.
- Try to ensure you are giving ample time to the person you’re questioning to respond. This may require time before they answer, so avoid interpreting a pause as a refusal to answer and plow on.
- Ensure your body language and tone, and pitch of voice also plays a huge role in the answers you’ll receive after asking questions.
- Avoid asking too many questions. It should not look like an interrogation.
- Respond encouragingly to get the desirable answers.
- Practice good questioning skills.
- Develop quiet time.
- Practice sensitive listening habits.
- Establish an environment of trust and confidence for the speaker to answer with ease and comfort.
Active listening and effective questioning skills are essential and meaningful skills to possess in our daily life. These communication skills are highly beneficial to diffuse heated conversations and provide a warm and welcoming environment for everyone to share the information freely. Practice plays a significant role in acquiring and developing these skills, so keep practicing until you are a master. Although active listening takes time and conscious efforts to master, however, when used effectively, it can open a new level of trust and openness in communications and relationships. Similarly, effective questioning is a powerful technique to help solve complex situations and build consensus on specific action courses. The starting point can be challenging, and open questions are an excellent way to direct the conversation. Questioning and discussing calmly through the process can help at arriving at a decent conclusion. It is critical to maintaining a safe environment during the conversation. It will encourage the speakers not to be overly conscious of what they say will be held against them. They will know they are being heard and appreciated, and above all, their words won’t be misinterpreted. Moreover, both effective listening and questioning skills can help in establishing trust between the communicating people at leading authentic and meaningful conversations.
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