by Marrisa Maldonado

There are two key oral communication skills that most people struggle with and they are active listening and providing feedback. Have you ever had a discussion with someone and told them, “Hey, you’re not listening to me!” even though they have a response to everything you say? I think that everyone has been through this at least once on a daily basis. There is a difference between hearing someone and listening to them. Hearing is just picking up vibrations, but listening is interpreting and making sense of what we hear. Everyone is guilty of being the person in the conversation that just hears, but doesn’t actually listen to others from time to time. For those of you who struggle with being active listeners, you need to make a conscious effort to improve this important skill because when people start to pick up on the fact that you aren’t listening to what they have to say, this could have a negative effect on you more than them. For instance, others may not have too much confidence in you because you never listen to their ideas or opinions and you might give the impression that you are too rigid in your thinking. If you are a manager or a supervisor, then, you really need to actively listen to your employees. Think of it this way — If you are not actually listening to your employees, then, how can you help them by providing decent feedback to improve their efficiency on how they perform at work?

You can become an active listener by making eye contact with others when they speak. In American culture, we expect people to make eye contact because it is a sign of respect and acknowledgement. Another way you can express you are listening is to give affirmative head nods or appropriate facial expressions. Giving appropriate facial expressions means that if the person talking to you looks sad, then, you need to make an effort to mirror their face by making a sad expression and the same goes with other types of expressed emotions. You don’t necessarily have to feel what they are feeling, however, making similar facial expressions shows empathy. A person who doesn’t listen cannot show appropriate facial expressions in relation to what others are saying because they aren’t interpreting or finding meaning in anything others say. It is okay to ask questions or paraphrase what the speaker is saying because it shows that you’re taking an initiative in trying to understand what the speaker is talking about. You should always avoid interrupting the speaker because you are getting ahead of yourself.  Wait until the speaker finishes what they have to say in order for you to digest it and see the whole picture. Avoid doing distracting gestures like looking around while the speaker is talking or texting on your cell phone because it is rude and it makes it awkward for the speaker, in any situation.  Do not over talk because when people do this, they tend to dominate the conversation and that isn’t fair to the speaker, especially the type of speaker that rarely speaks up at all.

Providing feedback is definitely the hardest communication skill to work on for a number of reasons. People usually make the mistake in attacking attributes that are out of a person’s control or unloading on a person. Giving feedback is the most important task for managers to deal with. Managers, in general, do not provide feedback to their employees. Sixty percent of U.S. and European companies have identified poor or ineffective feedback as the primary cause of insufficient employee performance. The table below will list rules of how to provide feedback along with examples to give you further explanation of the rules.

Review the table and choose which rules you struggle with the most because even if you are great at doing some of the rules listed, there is always room for improvement. In my opinion, I would say most people probably struggle with the second and the last rule. I encourage you guys to discuss which rules you feel you struggle with the most when providing feedback and think about why you struggle with these specific rules. Some of you might struggle with all of the rules listed above while others might only struggle with one or two of the rules. Either way you look at it, you can use the examples to your advantage. Which rules do you see being broken most often by yourself or by your co-workers? Do you agree with these rules? Do you have managers who break the majority of the feedback rules?

Another question is do you realize that your manager is breaking one of these rules when interacting with you, then, what is the correct way to discuss these realizations with your manager or boss? Do you think your superiors would actively listen to what you had to say? Hmm………………. △