How to be a Better Listener

March 21, 2007 — Leave a comment

KSL TVââ?¬â??Studio 5

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend and, as you’re talking, you sense that she’s stopped listening because her eyes seemed to glaze over? Or, perhaps the “glaze” is a bit more obvious, as she glances at her watch, over your shoulder, or around the room. It’s hard to deepen a connection with someone who rarely listens. We’ve all been given “the glaze” at one time or another, or, worse yet, we’ve given it! Eye contact, it’s a must. If we could improve in only one area in our communication skills, maintaining eye contact would be the preferred choice (unless it’s considered rude in your particular culture. It is certainly considered more than appropriate in our American culture.).

MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT

Once the eyes start to wander, two things happen. One, the person who is talking to you notices that you have started looking around and will feel that not only is what they’re saying unimportant but that they are unimportant. This is fatal to friendships and family relationships, not to mention deadly on the career front.

The second thing that happens when you lose eye contact is you will definitely begin to distract yourself and not hear what the speaker is saying. And, as that person starts to pick up her cup of tea you think to yourself, “That reminds me. I need to pick up some sugar on the way home today. And pick up my husband’s dry cleaning….or did I already do that? Wait, did I turn off the iron this morning?” By the time we’ve completed this internal dialogue, we don’t have a clue what was saidââ?¬Â¦and often times we’ll need our loved one or co-worker to repeat themselves…not a good idea for spreading the love or increasing your chances of promotion at work!

It’s really hard to fake it when you haven’t been listeningââ?¬Â¦there’s no other thing to say other than, “what was that?” Busted! Now, if we have been listening, reiterating or repeating what the speak her just said, is a good way to convey that we’re paying attention. .

REPEAT A KEY PHRASE

For example, if your dearest friend is telling you about the horrible day she just had, repeat the last thing she said before commenting or asking another question. “So, Susie, after you called the mechanic and found out it was going to cost $1,000.00 to fix the transmission, what did you do? Does Bob know yet?”

It’s that old saying, “we have two ears and only one mouthââ?¬Â¦use them accordingly.” Think short and sweet. In other words, a simple “I see.” “That makes sense!” “And then what did you do?” Asking open-ended questions, such as, “How did that make you feel?” can also promote further discussion.

LESS IS MORE

And, remember that we can nod our head to let the speaker know we’re right there with them. We want to be careful not to overdo that body language, lest we become a bobble headââ?¬Â¦losing all effectiveness, of course.

Body language is a large part of communication. There are other ways to show we are being mindful, besides maintaining eye contact and utilizing an occasional head nod.

Words, by the way, provide only a small part of our communication. Roughly only about 7% of our communication stems from words, while the remaining 93% of our communication conveying is nonverbal. This is important to understand for both roles: the listening and the speaking role.

LISTEN BEYOND WORDS

Body language, such as leaning forward, reaching out and touching our friend, tuning out distractions, repositioning your chair to face them, and using volume for emphasis, create a sense that one is listening. For example, use a low volume “You’re kidding me?” for a tender subject matter. Or, a loud “You’ve got to be kidding!,” depending on the topic and what feels appropriate.

Nonverbal speech includes our volume, pitch, inflection, tempo, and tone.

It’s also important to listen for some of those nonverbal clues in the speaker, as well then, to glean more information in addition to the words they’re saying. The mark of a great listener: Reading between the lines. Listen for their emotional state as they are talking. Do they sound apprehensive, forthcoming, guarded, hurt, heated? Again, less is more, but comment on the state you’re picking up: “You sound really uncertain about thisââ?¬Â¦.” Or, “I don’t blame you for feeling angryââ?¬Â¦I’d feel the same way.”

We can learn a great deal by someone’s posture, facial expressions, and how they’re holding themselves; are their arms crossed, is their jaw clenched, etc.

So many times we hear of listeners jumping in with their own storiesââ?¬Â¦suddenly the moment becomes about THEM. If we’re so busy sharing your own story, we’re going to miss those nonverbal communicators; It takes a great deal of self-control to not jump in with your personal experience. Bite your tongue, take a deep breath; this is not your momentââ?¬Â¦it doesn’t mean that your experience is not valuable, however, the timing of sharing is crucial. Towards the end of the conversation you could say, “I’d be happy to tell you my experience with that someday if you’re ever interested.” Unless they say, “Oh, please tell me nowââ?¬Â¦.I need to know I’m not the only one this has ever happened to,” hold off.

HOLD OFF ON YOUR OWN STORIESThey say that the mark of a true friend is that when we tell them we have a headache, they refrain from telling us about theirsââ?¬Â¦..at least in that moment, anyway. Avoid jumping in with, “That reminds me about the time that Iââ?¬Â¦.”Not helpful! Skip the story until the timing is right!

Being a better listener is not only going to help us foster closer personal relationships but it will also assist us in our professional or volunteer arenas as well. When you convey genuine listening, you convey that you are a brilliant communicator! Listening is about taking the time and being deliberate. Good listening does not just mean being quite. It involves wisdom, tact, self-control, timing, humility, and observation. Take a moment to remind yourself that you are offering a gift that expresses validation, importance, and love. Few things convey so much.

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Dr. Liz Hale

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