Active Listening

Active Listening - It has been said that the best communicators are actually the best listeners, not the best speakers. Remember that communication is a two-way process of expressing and receiving meaning between a speaker and a receiver. The speaking part is only half of the communication model.

In a sense, speaking is the easier of the two sides of the conversation. When you talk, you know what you are trying to say.

However, when you listen, you must understand what the other person is saying. This requires you to use your understanding of the background, context and assumptions behind the communication. For many people, this is the harder part of the communication model.

When you are gathering requirements, active listening is the most dominant skill. This is especially true when you are using interviewing and group interviewing techniques. Your role as a speaker is typically to set up the questions.

The most important part is to listen to the responses. The responses will contain requirements (or portions of them). The responses will also dictate the type of follow-up questions you will ask or where you take the discussion.

"Active listening" is the term used to describe this proactive listening process. You need to really focus on what is being said to know how to respond and to make sure you are identifying and capturing requirements accurately.

There are a number of techniques associated with active listening.

  • Look at the speaker. This is important to help make the speaker feel at ease.
  • Make eye contact when you talk, and let the interviewee make eye contact with you when he/she talks. Of course, there will be times when you will be taking notes, and, in fact, you will spend a lot of time writing during the discussion. However, it is important to make eye contact as often as possible during the discussion.
  • Show an interest. One of the worst things that an interviewer can do is act like he/she really would rather be somewhere else. The interviewee can pick up the clues that say that the interviewer is not really interested in the discussion. When that happens, the interviewee will tend to shut down and you will not end up with the requirements and insight you are looking for.
  • Draw the information out. Remember that your active listening techniques have two major purposes.
    • First, you want to make sure that you recognize any requirements that the speaker is providing.
    • Second, you need to hear the responses to understand the direction that the conversation should go next.

Your active listening and ability to ask good questions will allow you to draw the information out of the interviewee. In many cases, the interviewee has a hard time expressing the requirements.

This may be because he/she does not have good communication skills, doesn't feel comfortable with the discussion, or perhaps does not really want to be there. In any case, active listening and good follow-up questions can help you get the information that you need.

Activity


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