Become a Better Listener

Become a Better Listener
Practice Active Listening

Active listening is a vital part of good communication.  Mirroring, paraphrasing, and clarification are examples of active listening skills that have been demonstrated to be effective for reaching understanding.  Most communication experts recommend some variation of these skills.  Use them to bridge the gap in your listening differences.  To listen effectively you should CARE for those you’re listening to:

   C – concentrate – focus on the speaker

   A – acknowledge – through body language – nod your head occasionally or say uh-huh

   R – respond – ask questions for clarification and interest

   E – empathize – share in their emotions and feelings.  Validate your partner

Embrace a positive approach and attitude:  We get more in life of what we concentrate on.  A positive conversations is more likely when you start it in a positive way.  It sets the tone and will determine where the focus of the conversation is likely to head.  If you start with a phrase that can be interpreted to be accusing or demeaning such as “You didn’t… or “You make me feel…” a male is apt to focus on how he can defend himself against whatever you are going to say and a female is apt to focus on her emotions and feelings about the relationship.  Avoid a negative distraction by choosing a positive approach that speaks to the issue and not against the person.  Since people tend to mirror the emotional state of others, we have an opportunity to start in a positive way.

When you observe that your partner is not engaged in what you are saying, it’s a sure sign that you should start over, use a different approach, or pick a better time.  You will be disappointed if you go on blindly.  In this case you have the opportunity to say something like, “I get the impression you are focused on other things.  It’s important to me that we both understand what I’m talking about.  Would you prefer to continue later?  I suggest __o’clock.  Is that okay?”  When both the speaker and the listener focus on the conversation, both are more likely to be satisfied with both the process and the outcome.  Anything less is incomplete and dissatisfying with plenty of opportunity for misunderstanding.  The ingredients for successful conversations include understanding your communication preferences and differences and then making positive choices about how you will talk to your partner or co-worker and how you will listen.

We recommend that you talk about your differences.  There is nothing like talking about how you communicate to get to the heart of the matter.  Discuss what goes right and what goes wrong in your conversations.  Ask yourself why you ended up in an argument when it should have been just a conversation.  What happens when you solve problems without conflict?  When you find the answers you have the opportunity to solve problems instead of experiencing them over and over again.

In addition to these and other gender based communication preferences beyond that of focus, individuals have their own preferences on how they take in information.  We all translate what we hear or say based on who we are.  The sum total of our heredity and our life experience, who we are, serves to filter everything. We see the world through our own colored glasses and we walk in our own shoes.  We may not even be aware of the color of our glasses but they are there nonetheless.  Beyond our filters, preferences may be generally categorized in terms of how we relate to feelings, thoughts, visuals, or even physical movement (kinesthetic).  The reference clues come in how someone speaks in a response or opinion.  For example:  “I think…” indicates a thinking preference.  “I feel…” indicates a feeling preference.  “It looks like…” indicates a visual preference.  A person with a kinesthetic preference may describe things in terms of movement or even model it with his/her body.

When people with different preferences talk, there are opportunities for miscommunication and frustration.  A “thinker” listening to a “feeler” may miss much of the message while they struggle to translate emotions into logical thought.  We act as though we are speaking different languages and that’s not far from the truth.

Remember:  Good communication requires active listening.  If you want to communicate well with your listener and make a point then speak the “language” of the listener.