Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.— Carl Rogers
It Takes Two to Listen
If I could sum up all this listening advice in one short sentence it would be: Listen more and talk less. There. Now do that.
It’s not quite that simple, is it? Listening is a skill that not very many people have mastered. When was the last time you felt really listened to? I bet you can think of many more times when we’ve felt not listened to – maybe even ignored or cut off.
How many times do you have to repeat things to your spouse, because he doesn’t have a clue you told him already? Or how many times have you felt like you were talking to yourself? Yep, it’s everywhere, isn’t it?
Think of one person in your life who doesn’t listen to you. How do they make you feel?
By regularly using listening skills, you will become a better listener and more important, model that skill to those around you. Imagine if everyone practiced active listening skills! How awesome would that be?
6 Tips for Improving Your Active Listening Skills
I’ve settled on my top 6 active listening tips that, if you practice them, will change your relationships at work and at home. Here they are:
1. Slow your listening down.
Take a minute to breathe and think about listening and to be aware and present. Listen from your head to your toes. Listen as if what you are hearing could change your life. Be still and listen.
Don’t get distracted by things around you, or give into the temptation to try to multi-task, but rather offer a statement of observation. For example: say, “It sounds like you’re angry” (or sad/upset/frustrated, etc.). Listen and watch for the tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions of the person you’re talking to and then comment on it.
Factoid: We speak an average of 120 words per minute, but can listen four times faster.Your mind fills the gap by thinking of other things and wandering off. Stay focused. Slow down your listening and listen more than you talk.
3. Get clarification.
Listen first, then, ask questions. Find a way to understand their story – their facts, their feelings, and their perceptions.
Say, “Tell me more”, “help me understand,” or “do you mean to say that you are…?”
If you still don’t understand, ask for clarification in a different way. Sometimes you may need to ask for different words. My daughter may say something like, “the thing didn’t do its thing and it’s just not fair!” I may have to calmly ask her to find a different word to use for “thing” to understand what she is trying to communicate.
Communicate that you understand how they are feeling. Try phrases like: “It sounds like you are feeling left out,” or, “It sounds like you are feeling tired and don’t want to go.”
Repeat in your own words what was said to make sure you understand. Try this paraphrasing technique: “What I hear you saying is…” or “So you are saying that…” And then check for understanding. Say, “Is that right?”
After listening carefully and slowly, respond genuinely. Don’t fake it. An insincere response is worse than no response. Give non-verbal communication. Use eye contact and head nods to show your concern and interest.
And, here’s a bonus tip: a response that demonstrates you really weren’t listening is not a good response. If you aren’t sure what to say, don’t say anything – be silent, but engaged and present.
6. Reward the Feedback
Finally, once you’ve listened fully, reward the feedback! Say something like, “Thank you for sharing with me.” It will make people feel acknowledged and safe when talking with you.
Now, go and Listen!
A simple change in the way we listen will change the way we understand and how we respond. Active listening will increase the odds of success at understanding what the real issue is. This may take some practice, but you will get better at it, and it really will transform a relationship or two!
Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home.
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