According to leadership consultant Steve Anason, here’s a simple way to think about listening – realize that people only want to tell you one of three things: facts, opinions, or feelings. Your job is to listen for all three, and interpret the message for meaning and purpose. Here’s the critical link: Effective listening happens when you are receiving and interpreting the message in the same way that others intend it. So how do you maximize the odds of that happening?

First, do some pre-reflection about the person sending the message. In other words, ground your listening in a legitimate reason for listening. Try this –  before you connect with someone (in person, on the phone, or anywhere else), remind yourself why you’re going to listen to each person. What is the context? Where are they coming from? What’s been valuable about their messages in the past? Listening effectively starts with getting yourself ready to listen.

Second, people vary greatly in their communications style, so understand how each person expresses themselves. Your challenge is to absorb the message and tease out what’s most important. This is critical – failing to recognize what’s most important is what leads to ineffective listening. You may have heard what they said, but you missed what they wanted to convey. This is the classic “crossed wires” feeling that people walk away with sometimes – it’s what produces the “he didn’t hear me” comments.

LISTENING WISDOM LESSON: You can ensure more messages hit their mark by reminding yourself of the three types of information and paying close attention to what it is others are really trying to communicate?

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