Genuine Listening, A Precious Gift:
4 Strategies to Improve Conversations
“Most people do not listen with intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”
– Stephen R. Covey
You are out with a group of friends or colleagues. One person is talking about her children. Another boasts about a recent trip. Two people are bantering about a political situation. You look around and realize people are speaking, but nobody is listening!
How important is listening?
You know listening is important, but have you ever considered genuine, active listening as a game-changer in professional and personal conversations?
Effective communication is key to achieving our goals. Listening is an essential ingredient that strengthens relationships and connections. Truly listening with the intention to understand is one of the greatest gifts we can share. Benefits of powerful listening include exploring and generating new ideas, enhancing problem solving, resolving conflicts, inspiring meaningful interactions, and expressing caring and positive regard. In the workplace, listening can contribute to greater productivity and engagement.
What is real listening vs. pseudo listening?
Simply getting quiet when someone is speaking is not necessarily an indicator of active listening. In their book, “Messages: The Communication Skills Book”, McKay, Davis, and Fanning (2009) explain that real listening involves a commitment to understand the speaker’s perspective. Real listening involves one of these four intentions: wanting to understand someone; seeking to enjoy someone; learning something; or offering assistance/comfort. These behaviors starkly contrast with pseudo (false) listening when we may be thinking about what we want to say next, half listening because we aren’t actually interested, or are listening for a specific thing we want to hear. How frequently do you try to look like you are listening when your true focus is elsewhere?
When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who genuinely listened to you?
In 2018, deep listening has become a precious and rare gift.
Ready to listen better? Here are 4 strategies to improve your listening skills:
1 – Using effective listening body language: Much of our communication is in not in the words, but in the visuals, the nonverbal ways we interact with others. A few simple behaviors can empower us to listen more effectively. It’s helpful to face the speaker and lean slightly forward. In most Western cultures, eye contact is sign of careful listening. Avoid glancing at phones, computers or other distractions.
2 – Getting quiet: Empower the speaker to finish her/his thought with your patient presence. A thoughtful, mindful pause can be a powerful communication tool. Opening a brief, quiet space enables the speaker to move at her/his own pace and become aware of thoughts and feelings. Consider the possibility that you can actively continue to listen and remain attentive even during a few seconds of quiet.
3 – Listening with an open mind: Relax and pay attention as fully as you can to what the speaker is sharing. Take a conscious breath. It is a human tendency to listen selectively, to listen for what we want to hear. Paying attention with an open mind involves listening with curiosity to what the other person is sharing, like an explorer seeking to learn. This stance enables listening with less judgement; less reaching for premature conclusions. When we relax and listen with an open mind we can understand more of what the speaker is expressing.
4 – Clarifying what you think you are hearing: At intervals, it can be helpful to clarify what you think the other person is trying to say. Clarifying involves a brief statement or question with intent to understand the speaker’s perspective. Can you tell me more about …? I think I heard you say … Do I have that right?
“Other people matter.”
– Chris Peterson, PhD
Listening with empathy, interest, and intent to understand makes a positive difference in conversations and relationships. Genuine listening is indeed a precious gift that lets others know that they matter. Listening builds relationships, careers, respect, trust, and empowered relationships.
Truly listening with the intention to understand is one of the greatest gifts we can share with another person.
Resources and References to Learn More:
- McKay, Davis, and Fanning (2009). “Messages: The Communication Skills Book”, New Harbinger, CA.
- Mehrabian’s Communication Theory – verbal, non-verbal, body language (2017).
- Schilling, Dianne (November 9, 2012). 10 Steps To Effective Listening.
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