25 Tips for Active Listening in a Collaborative Environment

1. Find a quiet, private place to listen.  Hallways, shared offices, and other busy places are not conducive to active listening.  In a quiet spot you’ll be better able to focus your whole attention and create a non-threatening environment.  Collaborative meetings require quiet and peaceful settings.

1. Want to listen.  Almost all problems in listening can be overcome by having the right attitudes.  There is no such thing as uninteresting people, only uninterested listeners.  All collaborative participants must be vested in listening.

1. Act like a good listener.  Be alert, sit straight, lean forward if that’s appropriate, let your face radiate interest.  Walk the walk and talk the talk.

1. Listen to understand, obtain clarity and re-evaluate your position.  Be open to fresh ideas and alternative thinking.  Do not just listen for the sake of listening; listen to gain a real understanding of what is being said.

1. React.  The only time a person likes to be interrupted is when he is applauded.  Be generous with your applause.  Make the other person feel important. Applaud with nods, smiles, comments, encouragement. Don’t interrupt and be positive in your comments when the speaker if finished.

1. Stop talking.  You can’t listen while you are talking.  Communicate – don’t just take turns talking.  Conversation is a give and take experience.  Be cognizant of the pauses and opening that allow you to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.

1. Empathize.  Try to put yourself in the other person’s place so you can see his or her point of view.  You may surprise yourself when doing so makes you reconsider your stance on issues.

1. Concentrate on what the other is saying.  Actively focus your attention on the words, the ideas, and the feelings related to the subject.  “Listen” to the body language as well as the verbal word.

1. Look at the other person.  Face, mouth, eyes, hands will all help the other person communicate with you and help you concentrate, too – show you are listening.

1. Smile appropriately; don’t overdo it.

1. Leave your emotions behind (if you can).  Try to push your worries, your fears, your problems away.  They may prevent you from listening well.  Suppress the urge to interrupt with negative input.

1. Get rid of distractions.  Put down any papers, pencils, etc., you may have in your hands; they may distract your attention or the attention of the speaker.

1. Get the main points (the big story) and respond appropriately to them.  Don’t derail the conversation and go off on your own tangent.  Concentrate on the main ideas and not on the illustrative material.  Examples, stories, statistics, etc., are important but are not usually the main points.  Examine them only to see if they prove, support, or define the main ideas.

1. Share responsibility for communication.  Only part of the responsibility rests with the speaker; you as the listener have an important role.  Try to understand; if you don’t, ask for clarification and elaboration as necessary.

1. React to ideas, not to the person. Don’t allow your reaction to the person to affect your interpretation of words.  Good ideas can come from people whose looks or personality you don’t like. Consider the ideas of the professionals involved in your collaborative meeting as well as the ideas of your spouse.  Brainstorming together and generating alternative options provides the spectrum of possibilities and allows you to focus on the ideas that may work for your situation.

1. Don’t argue mentally.  When you are trying to understand the other person, it is a handicap to argue mentally while you are listening, as you cannot possibly be giving your full attention to the speaker.  Being argumentative mentally or verbally sets up a barrier between you and the speaker.

1. Use the difference between the speed at which you can listen and the speed at which a person can talk.  Human speech is much slower than the ability to think..  Use this rate difference to your advantage by trying to stay on the right track, and think back over what the speaker has said.

1. Don’t antagonize the speaker.  In doing so, you may cause the other person to conceal ideas, emotions, and attitudes in many ways and set up a strong barrier to resolving any conflict between you.  Try to judge and be aware of the effect you are having on the other person.  Adapt your mannerisms to the speaker.

1. Avoid hasty judgments.  Wait until all the facts are in.

1. Develop the attitude that listening is fun!  Make a game of seeing how well you can listen and how positively you can respond.

1. Keep the speaker at ease to enable them to fully participate in the collaborative process.  Help him or her feel free to talk.

1. Be patient.  Allow plenty of time.  Do not interrupt.  Stay focused on the present and moving forward to the future, not the past.

1. Hold your temper.  An angry person can get the wrong meaning from words.  Ask for clarification before jumping to the conclusion that any comment was personally offensive.

1. Go easy on argument and criticism.  This puts others on the defensive and they may “clam up” or get angry.  Don’t argue: even if you win, you lose.  The focus is on understanding and cooperation, gaining clarity and working through the issues, one at a time.

1. Ask pertinent questions.  This is encouraging, and it also shows you are listening.  It  helps to develop points further, and is essential for clarification.

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