Great communicators have three key skills available that help them to build relationships, to influence and to manage. One skill is asking Questions, another is giving Answers. The third skill is small, easily forgotten but very important. Let's look at the art of the Acknowledgement.
A colleague used to say that we each come into work every day with an invisible sign around our necks that reads 'Help me to feel important'. When conversing with a colleague, you might not often tell the person outright that they are important, but the Acknowledgement does this for you every time. Acknowledgement lets them know you have heard them, that you have taken on board what they have said, and that you understand their point of view. It is not the same as agreeing but rather creates a zone of shared understanding and a tone of respect.
What are the benefits? Importantly, you buy yourself some time to think before you respond. The speaker will more likely listen when it's your turn to speak because they know you've heard them properly. You have minimised resistance. You are likely to have actually heard what they said and understood what they meant, because you had to slow down a bit. You've shown respect, patience, self-control possibly, so well done for curbing your ego.
There are different kinds of Acknowledgement to practice to reach mastery of this small art:
1. Silent Acknowledgement. Nod. Think about their words. Pause before you respond.
2. Non-verbal sounds. Hmm. Ah. Uh-huh. Oh? and pause.
3. Repetition of the last word or short phrase they used, exactly as they said it, leaving a pause at the end. They are likely to carry on speaking off this prompt.
4. Short verbal acknowledgement. I see. Okay. Understood. Right. Interesting. And pause before you ask a question or make your response.
5. Summarise. Play back the key points from what you have just heard said. You might preface this with 'Let me check I've got that' or 'So what you're saying is...' It gives the speaker a chance to hear back what they have said, and to correct or add to it. It allows you, the listener, to elegantly take control of the conversation and have your turn at speaking, if you did not yet have the chance.
6. Paraphrase. This is similar to summarising except that you use your own words, perhaps to simplify or clarify the meaning for yourself or others.
7. Synthesise. You pull together the points that have been made and distil the meaning. You're providing the added-value of answering a silent 'So What?' question, to bring focus and draw out any available insight.
You'll see that the pause is pretty important when we acknowledge and it can work well all by itself. Whatever demonstrates that you have really listened will do the job. Now the speaker is more likely to do the same for you when they listen (or you can ask them to), and voila, you have improved the overall quality of your dialogues together.