In our previous blogs about effective communications, we have learned about the basics of communication, the different communication and thinking styles, and how best to adjust your communications to suit a person with a different style to you.
This week, we are going to talk about the different types of listening and how to ask effective questions. This is particularly important as you learn about your new workplace, role and the people you work with, as you will no doubt ask a lot of questions in your first few weeks!
The following information is based on StudyPerth’s learnings from the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia (AIM WA) Effective Communication training.
Are you listening?
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and you can just tell that they are not engaged? It’s very frustrating, especially when you are trying to convey something very important to them. How can you communicate effectively with someone when they are clearly not listening?
There are different types of listening, typically presents as different levels of engagement:
- Passive/not listening – nothing is registering with the person you are speaking to; they are not concentrating at all.
- Pretend (or responsive) listening – using stock standard nods, smile and agreeable noises (‘uhuh’, ‘of course’); quite often the person is distracted or daydreaming.
- Biased (or projective) listening – intentionally disregarding the other person’s views; they take in certain information, but because they have differing views they do not accept (take in) anything in contrast to their views and selectively omit it.
- Misunderstood listening – unconsciously overlaying their own interpretations and making things ‘fit’ when they actually don’t.
- Attentive (data driven) listening – the person is listening to the content but fails to receive all the non-verbal communications such as tone of voice, facial expression and the speaker’s body language.
- Active listening – listening to words and intonation, observing body language and facial expressions, and giving constructive feedback/responses.
- Empathetic listening – active listening, plus the person you are speaking to demonstrates an understanding of the emotional content of the discussion.
- Facilitative listening – listening, understanding fully, and helping, with the other person’s needs uppermost.
We understand that it can be difficult to maintain facilitative listening for long durations – for example, you may be better at it in the morning after a good night’s sleep rather than in the afternoon when your concentration is flagging.
Given this, you should always aim for active listening at the very least, out of respect for the people you are speaking with.
How to actively listen
Active listening comes down to three main points – you should pay close attention to the speaker, encourage them to continue to speak, and reflect the message back to them.
By adopting these methods, this ensures you are listening to the whole message and not just the words coming out of their mouth.
Pay close attention
- Body language - use eye contact, turn your body to face them and adopt an open position or stance, be aware of personal space
- Verbal – let them speak, use an appropriate tone of voice in your responses, be encouraging
- Use conversation openers
- Invite them to speak
- Make brief, responses without asking too many questions
- Pause when appropriate
Reflect their message back
- Paraphrase their point
- Ask questions to clarify their point
- Reflect their feelings and meanings about the topic
- Summarise their point
Have you ever tried to get an answer out of someone and found your answer ‘blocked’ with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers? Perhaps you weren’t asking the right question.
Asking questions has many purposes, some of which are to build rapport, obtain information, control a conversation, influence others, and check for understanding, all of which demonstrate effective questioning.
An interesting exercise from StudyPerth’s Effective Communication training was to have one person think of an actor or actress, and the other person had to find out who they were. One duo had some difficulty as the questions they chose to ask were ‘closed’ – such as ‘Are you Australian?’, and ‘Are you female?’. Another duo had more success as they were using ‘open’ questions – such as ‘Can you please describe the plot of your latest movie?’ and ‘Remind me, who was your co-star?’.
In addition to ‘open’ questions, there are other good types that can help you gain information:
- Probing questions – used to clarify information and draw out information from reluctant participants. Example: ‘Who, exactly, wanted this report?’
- Leading questions – used to get the answer you want but leaving the person feeling that they had a choice. Example: ‘How late do you think the project will be delivered?’. This assumes the project will certainly not be completed on time.
- Rhetorical questions – statements used in a question form designed to gain agreement. Example: ‘That training was really helpful, wasn’t it?’
- Funnel questions – used to find out more detail about a specific point, often requiring a mix of open and closed questions. Example: ‘What are your greatest challenges with this client?’ ‘Of those challenges, which is the biggest challenge?’ ‘Why?’
Of course, there is a time and place for closed questions with ‘yes/no’ answers, but we would encourage you to also use open questions to solicit information when you are learning about your new workplace.
By using the correct type of question in your conversation, you are much more likely to get the information you need more quickly.
We hope you have enjoyed our effective communication series as much as we enjoyed our training! We would love to hear about you using these tips and tricks in your workplace! Tag us on social media (@studyperth) and tell us how you employed some effective communication techniques at work.