Active Listening vs. Miscommunication

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Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone and you had no idea why or how it started? You had all good intentions, but for some reason the other person took what you said the wrong way.

Or have you ever done a really thorough job on an assignment and when your boss saw it she was disturbed that you hadn’t given her what she had asked for?

Most of us have experienced moments like these: the casualties of misunderstandings or “failed communications.”

Communication consists not only of what the speaker says or writes, but also of the accurate reception of the message by the listener or reader. There’s a simple tool to avert these kinds of miscommunications: “active listening.” When the listener engages in active listening, he listens with his eyes as well as his ears, to capture what is being communicated even non-verbally. Then he reflects it back to the speaker, basically summarizing her message. “So you’re saying you’d like me to X-Y-Z by tomorrow and present it to you and the team at 4 PM.”

Then if the listener did not accurately reflect what the speaker was trying to communicate, the speaker has the opportunity to express it again, preferably in a different way, or explain it in more detail. Rinse and repeat until the speaker is satisfied that the listener understands what she wants to communicate.

This might sound a little tedious, but it ensures that you are on the same page as your co-communicator. And it helps the speaker feel you value what she is saying enough to confirm you are getting it right. In the case of your boss, she’ll see that you want to give her what she is asking for. A friend will feel like you “get” him. It builds mutual trust.

So the next time you’re given an assignment, or if you have the sense there is tension building in a conversation with a friend, put on your communication tool belt and pull out active listening. A little effort will help avert a lot of trouble.

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