While many of us like to think we are good listeners, the fact is that we often fail to grasp the full meaning of what is being said. Not only do we sometimes forget to actually listen, but we sometimes forget to listen with understanding. There are several habits that can be employed to make sure we engage in active and productive listening no matter who we are dealing with. Read more to find out how.
How to Listen With Understanding
Clear your mind. All too often, the average person is thinking of secondary things while engaged in a conversation. This sort of multi-tasking can increase your inability to grasp key elements within the conversation, such as the tone used to distinguish certain words. By focusing attention on the speaker, you can exponentially increase your chances of fully comprehending what is being said.
View comments within the intended context. Make use of visual and audio cues about the meaning attached to certain words. (Is the individual sharing an anecdote that is relevant to the larger conversation?) By understanding the larger context of what is being said, you will increase you ability to properly understand the meaning and intention of the speaker.
Do not interrupt or interject. Allow the speaker to complete his or her thoughts before you begin to speak. There is a good chance that your question(s) or comment(s) will be answered or addressed, if the speaker is allowed to finish his thought. (Rudely interrupting a person in the middle of her thought never goes over well.)
Double check your assumptions. Perception checks are a commonly used speaking tool that allow a listener to clarify what he has heard. A perception check is simply a means of ensuring that you understand the remarks you have just heard by restating them in your own words. Preface your response with a phrase such as “If I understood you correctly, you said…” This kind of phrasing will help to signal to the speaker your desire to make sure you have received the message accurately.
Maintain an open mind and do not judge the comments until they are complete and the intent has been made clear. Our minds have the ability to process data very quickly. All too often, we jump forward and make value judgements before all the information is communicated. Refrain from making judgements until after the speaker is finished and you have made sure you understand the meaning of the comments that were shared.
Many people are receptive to clarifying what they just said, so never be afraid to ask questions if you believe you have missed something important.
Keep in mind, the idea behind listening with understanding is to make sure you comprehend the who, what, how, when and where of what is being said. Assigning motives or prejudging the comments before the speaker is finished will cut off communication and severely limit your ability to be "present" during the conversation.