Listening is by no means an easy skill. It is something which has to be worked on continuously and can be improved and developed further in many ways. Below is an extract for the 8 rules of good listening by David L. Preston from the book “365 ways to be your own Coach, published by HOW TO BOOKS.
Which of these do you already do naturally? Which do you need to practice and improve?
- Make Time and be Patient:
This is the only way you can show respect and be fully present. Stop what you’re doing and focus your full attention on listening and observing.
- Take Responsibility
Take responsibility for making sure you understand their full meaning. If you don’t hear first time, ask then to repeat it. If you don’t understand, ask. If necessary, keep checking until you’re sure you’ve understood.
- Show that you are Listening
Let them know they’ve been heard. Memorise this useful mnemonic: SOFTEN:
Smile and project your warmth
Adopt an Open posture (e.g. uncrossed arms and legs)
Lean towards them and Face them squarely
Use Touch (where appropriate)
Make Eye contact (but don’t stare). Appropriate eye contact inspires a feeling of trust and closeness
Nod your head to signify understanding and/or approval
Do these in a non-threatening manner. For example, touching another person can be a gesture of support, but it can also be misinterpreted. Similarly, while appropriate eye contact inspires a feeling of trust and closeness, prolonged eye contact can be disconcerting. Hold your gaze for long enough to acknowledge the other (three to four seconds is quite sufficient), but not so long to intimidate. A useful tip is to gaze at the bridge of the nose rather than straight into the eyes – it’s much less intimidating.
- Don’t Interrupt
Don’t interrupt unless to ask a brief question to ensure you’ve really understood. In the early days of telecommunication it was impossible to speak and listen at the same time when talking on the telephone, and it’s no different today if both parties are listening well. If you catch yourself interrupting, stop immediately, apologise, and invite them to continue.
Try this: When the speaker has finished talking count to three and wait before replying. This way you know they’re not just stopping to take a breath.
- Learn to read Body Language
Listen with your ears and your eyes. The human body is capable of transmitting over half a million signals, many of them subconsciously. The face alone can produce over a quarter of a million different expressions. A shrug of the shoulders, for instance, or a dismissive wave of the hand can express far more than words.
We are all continually telegraphing out thoughts, attitudes, feelings and intentions non-verbally. Here are some clues:
- Eyes looking down or away – self-consciousness or guilt
- Raised eyebrows – disbelief
- Rubbing the nose or pulling the ears – they don’t understand, even if they say they do
- Hand touching the mouth- anxious or trying to deceive you
- Folded or crossed arms – nervous or shut off from you (or feeling cold!)
- Hands on hips or active gesturing – aggression
- Tapping on the desk or chair – nervousness or impatience
- Tremor in voice – nervousness
- Shrugging the shoulders – indifference to what you say
- Facing you squarely, full height, smiling, head forward – confidence
Beware: Body language is not universe – different cultures have their own gestures and ignorance can inadvertently result in offence.
- Focus on the Content
Ignore extraneous factors, such as appearance, dress sense, accent, choice of words, grammar, etc. Even if you find their language or ideas distasteful or offensive, keep listening. They won’t open up to you if they think you’re being prudish or condemning.
- Check the accuracy of what you have heard
This reassures the other person that you have indeed been listening. There are two ways to do this: First put what you’ve heard into your own words and subtly feed it back to the speaker. For example:
- You feel… because… e.g. “So you feel worried because you haven’t heard from your mother for several weeks”
- “What I understand you to be saying is…”
- “Let me make sure I understand you clearly…”
Alternatively, reflect back what you heard in different words:
- “So you don’t see much of a future in this job…”
- “So you don’t think the scheme will work…”
- “It seems to me that you don’t think the relationship will last…”
If you’re still not clear, ask directly for clarification.
- “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand. Could you please explain…”
If this is a new skill for you, practise until you are confident you can do it without sounding like a mimic.
Secondly ask open ended questions such as:
- Tell me more about…
- How do you mean?
- In what way?
Open-ended questions keep the other person talking and encourage them to explain themselves fully.
- Learn to cope with Silence
Most people find silence uncomfortable. Good listeners resist the tendency to jump in when the other person stops talking. During periods of silence the speaker’s mind is still active and often moments of profound insight take place. Shut up and be patient, no matter how disconcerting it feels.
Image Source: www.faculty.londondeanery.ac.uk
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