The Art of Listening

It’s not new information to remind people of the importance of listening. We have reiterated the power of listening on this blog many times. So what’s with another post about listening?

Listening is power.

Active listening, aka curious listening, is first and foremost about connection. Whereas listening can be used for evil, the intention of this post is to use listening skills for good. Listening has the power to:

  • Build relationships
  • Defuse arguments
  • Combat defensiveness
  • Gain trust
  • Seek understanding
  • Gain clarity
  • Show compassion

Good listeners are rare. When was the last time you felt someone truly listened to you? What was it like? What did the person do to make you feel heard?

Listening Basics

  1. Undistracted listening. Listening means giving the speaker your undivided attention. You’re not checking your phone, looking elsewhere, or thinking about what you’re doing that weekend. You maintain good eye contact and face the person at a slight angle. Facing someone directly can be creepy and uncomfortable for some. Therefore, stand at a slight angle with an open stance and hands at your sides. Your body language sends the message you’re interested in what they have to say.
  2. Encourage speaking. In order to listen, someone else needs to be talking, right? You want them to talk and continue talking. To encourage them, nod your head and use minimal encouragers such as, “Hmm-hmm,” “Okay,” “Yeah.” This sends the message you’re engaged in the conversation.
  3. Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that cannot be answered with a one word or one sentence response. They are questions that get the speaker to dig deeper for information. Bonus points for asking an open-ended question without actually asking a question. For example, “Tell me more about that.” You’re interested, but you’re not an interrogator.
  4. Repeat information to ensure understanding. We all think we understand what someone else is saying, so we move on with the conversation with our own interpretation. But our own interpretation of what someone said may not be accurate. To make sure you are moving forward on the same page, repeat what the speaker said back to them. Then, they will either confirm you got it right, or they will make corrections. A few sentence starters might be: “Let me make sure I understand you…”; “So, you’re saying…”; “Just to make sure we’re on the same page…”; or “Am I hearing you correctly…”

Listening Bad Habits

We all have bad habits when it comes to listening. Some we have justified to ourselves, like believing we can fully listen to another person and check our email at the same time. Multi-tasking is a myth, folks. Your brain can only process one piece of information at a time. Below are a few examples of other listening bad habits.

  • Asking “Why” questions. These often come across as judgmental.
  • Fixing. Much of the time, people just want to be heard. They are not looking for you to fix anything. If they want a fix, they generally ask.
  • Telling them what they should do. This goes along with the fixing. It also comes across as judgmental.
  • Assuming you understand.
  • Giving no verbal/nonverbal feedback. Listening is not passive. Verbal and nonverbal queues are a crucial way to let the speaker know you care.
  • Giving poor nonverbal feedback. Sometimes we don’t know we are giving poor nonverbal feedback. The best way to know is to ask someone you trust.
  • Impatience. Listening takes patience. Avoid interrupting or trying to speed the conversation up for your own benefit.

Listening is an essential piece of connective communication. By improving your listening skills, you will gain knowledge, trust, clarity, and relationship power.

Thanks for reading,

DeAnne Negley

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