May I Have Your Attention Please - Are You Listening?
Miscommunication happens. Most of the time, the consequences are miniscule. Your burger has a tomato on it, your friend shows up for the 9:30 movie instead of the 8:45, your significant other picks up milk instead of cream.
Other times, the consequences are more severe. A patient’s life is on the line if the surgeon and anesthesiologist do not communicate well. An authorized entrant in a “permit required confined space” could be crawling into a death trap if they do not communicate properly with the attendant.
Half of all communication is listening. The best listener not only remembers what was said, but engages in the conversation throughout. This is known as active listening. Simply put, active listening is making a conscious decision to understand what is being said. This may sound like something we do automatically, but there are a lot of things to consider when listening actively.
This may sound obvious but being attentive is one of the harder things to accomplish. Make eye contact with the person you are talking to. Clear your mind of racing thoughts. Don’t think about what you plan to do after the conversation. Don’t even think about what your response is going to be when the person is done talking. Make the conscious effort to only hear what is being said by the speaker.
No one likes to talk to a brick wall. Nod your head along with the conversation. React to what is being said. This will show the speaker that they have your undivided attention. Use body language to respond to what is said. Encourage the speaker to continue and ask for clarification when needed.
Everyone takes in information differently, and it’s possible you may have misinterpreted the point or information they were trying to convey. Reply by paraphrasing the important points to check that you are both on the same page. Remember: Do not plan what you are about to say in your head while the other person is still talking.
Do not Interrupt
While the occasional “yes” or head nod is encouraged, make sure they don’t control the conversation. If you have something to add to what is being said, just wait until it is your time to speak. Interrupting could make the speaker lose their train of thought and leave out important information.
Even if you are a subject expert, the speaker may have valuable new information or an alternative point of view to consider. Keep an open mind until you have a clear understanding of the speaker's meaning.
Active listening is a skill and, like all skills, takes time to perfect. It’s possible to focus so much on being an active listener that you forget to actually listen. Time and practice will eventually lead you to become a better listener, resulting in better communication overall.
A good workplace safety program and safety culture depend on good communication. Learning the skills of active listening are key in helping you make better decisions to assure safe operations.
For more information:
Policy holders can check out communication quick-tips on the Safety Director including communication styles and non-verbal communication.
BLR-Safety “Learning to Listen for Better Workplace Communication”
MEMIC blog: Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk