Posted 10 years ago
Have you ever been to a dinner party where you sensed the talk wasn’t really a conversation as much as a series of monologues? First, somebody tells about their vacation, and maybe a dutiful but shallow question or two is asked. Then somebody else brags about his kid getting into medical school, which leads another guest to talk about her own college days. On and on it goes, while eyes wander and heads occasionally nod between bites of quiche and sips of French Colombard. You get the impression no one is really listening. Rather, they’re just rehearsing what they might say. Maybe they’re thinking about how to sound good, how strongly to make their points, or how to outshine the others. As a result, by evening’s end, everyone will have talked-but people really won’t have communicated much or gotten to know each other very well. Unfortunately, many of our everyday conversations are like that, too. While we hear, we only pretend to listen. Listening doesn’t just mean shutting up while someone else speaks-though that’s a start. (“A good listener is a good talker with a sore throat,” one English wit said.) But listening-real listening-takes more work than that. It’s more than the physical process of hearing. It also takes intellectual and emotional effort. To get a full appreciation of the other person and what’s being said, you need to ask questions, give feedback, remain objective, figure out what’s really being said and what’s not being said, and observe and interpret body language. As Matthew McKay and Martha Davis say in their book, How to Communicate, “Listening is a commitment and a compliment. It’s a commitment to understanding how other people feel, how they see their world” and it’s “a compliment because it says to the other person: ‘I care about what’s happening to you, your life and your experience are important.'” When you want to win someone’s attention and gain his or her confidence, listening is just as important as speaking. Good listening draws people to you; poor listening causes them to drift away. Here are some ideas on ways to make active listening easier for you:
1. Listen–really listen–to one person for one day. Choose one person you could relate to better. Commit to listening to them-not just hearing them-for one day. Once you’ve gotten into this habit of nudging yourself to listen better, extend this exercise to successive days, then to other acquaintances as well.
2. Create a receptive listening environment. Turn off the TV. Hold your calls. Put away your spread sheets and silence your computer. When listening, forget about clipping your nails, crocheting, solving crossword puzzles, or snapping your chewing gum. Instead, try to provide a private, quiet, comfortable setting where you sit side by side with others without distractions. If that’s not possible, perhaps suggest a later meeting in a more neutral, quieter environment.
3. Be alert to your body language. What you do with your eyes, face, hands, arms, legs, and posture sends out signals as to whether you are, or aren’t, listening to and understanding what the other person is saying. When you acknowledge the other person both verbally and nonverbally, you build trust and increase rapport. And you’ll probably learn something, too!
4. Abstain from judging. As someone once advised, “Grow antennae, not horns.” If you prejudge someone as shallow or crazy or ill informed, you automatically cease paying attention to what they say. So a basic rule of listening is to judge only after you’ve heard and evaluated what they say. Don’t jump to conclusions based on how they look, or what you’ve heard about them, or whether they’re nervous.
5. Create and use an active-listening attitude. Learning to be an active listener is like learning to be an active jogger. It takes effort. You start little by little and work upward. It’s as much a state of mind as a physical activity. Besides, as you work longer and get better, it pays ever-increasing benefits. I would like to hear from you-Have you tried one of these ideas for active listening yourself? Have they worked? Do you have another idea to add to the list?