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Are you a good listener?

posted 20 Jul 2013, 21:43 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 25 Jul 2013, 23:46 ]
Do you believe you are a good listener? You might not be aware of some of the barriers to good listening that are commonly practised by people in everyday conversations.
  • Multitasking: Think you can check your texts and emails on your smartphone and listen at the same time? How about watch TV and talk? Think again. Listening effectively takes more concentration than a lot of people think. Not only does multitasking distract you from listening, it sends a message to your conversation partner that you are not really interested. 
  • Welcome to my world: You've taken a leap of faith and put your trust in the person you are pouring your heart out to. You're one of those people who don't talk easily about their problems. You're a 'glass half full' kind of person, so when you do open up about something that's bothering you, it's quite a big deal. You're feeling vulnerable and potentially judged - and then the person who you're talking to says "Welcome to my world". You now feel about 2cms tall - like your thoughts and feelings have no validity whatsoever. Their problems, which you are about to hear about are waaaaaaay more important than yours and you wasted your time looking for empathy here. Empathy is when you use minimal language to convey understanding - jumping in and telling your story is rude and disempowers the other person.
  • Body language/minimal encouragers: A person who is interested in what they're being told is keeping regular eye contact, nodding, saying little words and phrases like "Yes", "Ah huh", "Say more". Rolled eyes, looking away, interrupting and turning your body away all indicate disinterest.
  • Preparing your response: One of the key reasons that people don't hear what is being said to them is that they're mentally preparing their response. Maybe they've been emotionally triggered by something the other person has said; maybe they have a really strong opinion on the topic being talked about. Either way, your ears close when your brain's engaged in formulating your response to what's being said. Just listening, feeding back what you've heard and asking for clarification shows respect for the person and their words.
  • Information saturation: Everyone is different in the amount of information they can hear, retain and make sense of. If you find yourself getting lost in the information, you might be getting saturated. Ask your conversation partner to give you a few seconds to process, or ask them to clarify something they've already said. This will lead to clearer understanding of each other and a more satisfying outcome.
  • Not allowing enough time: Different brains process at different speeds. Some people speak rapidly for a few minutes, take a quick pause, then continue. Others speak quietly, pause often and continue on when you think they might have been finished. If you're not sure if the person you are speaking to has finished, it's really easy to find out - ask respectfully. A question like "Is there more you want to say about that?" or "Would you like to hear my thoughts on this?" are respectful ways of finding out if it's your turn to express yourself.
I hope the above gives you some food for thought next time you are having a conversation that you want to remember. Small changes can make a real difference to the experience for both the talker and listener.

Suzi Wallis | Apr 2012