Attending meetings, conferences, family events or even my own dinner table I have learned an important lesson. To be heard you must be a good listener. This seems counter intuitive because most people try to be heard by getting louder or more animated and listening seems to be a more passive activity. While I have observed these various gatherings, I have noticed that those who actively listen have the most meaningful contribution to a discussion. Because their comments are so well thought out others will be quiet when this person speaks or even stop the discussion to ask their opinion.
Being curious about what I was seeing encouraged me to do research on how I could become and actively listener and be better heard. Research has shown we only retain 25% to 50% of what we hear. Being an action-based person, I investigated active listening. Active listening is a way of reaching mutual understanding by intently listening and watching non-verbal cues. Only after taking in all the information from the other person, responding with feedback to their comments while adding your own opinion. So, how do you do this? Here are six tips I am putting into practice.
While you may think the first tip would be to listen, I find it more productive to suspend my preconceived ideas and judgment on the topic before I start to listen to someone. If I have already decided on the outcome, we will never reach a mutual understanding. I must clear my mind and become open to fully listen to what the other person has to say.
Clear the other distractions. If you are looking at your phone or doing another activity your full set of senses cannot be focused on the other person or people. I have stopped multi-tasking in meetings at work. I have put my phone down or in the other room when talking with my husband or children. I am finding that as people notice I am focused on what they have to say they are also more open to me. They share their thoughts more freely. They also mimic my behavior and are more attention when I give feedback.
Give Encouraging Cues
Eye contact is tougher for all of us, especially my dear children, in a world where we are more comfortable looking at a screen. Practice looking someone in eth eye while they speak. Head nodding as they say something you agree with or are starting to better understand will encourage them to keep speaking. Small phrases like, “I see.” “That makes sense.” I understand.” “Ok.” Will also offer support to the other person or people to keep talking. Do not use these forms of encouragement unless they are how you feel. This response must be authentic.
Asking question to clarify the other person or people’s point of view ensures a better understanding. This also shows you are trying to fully understand their point of view. Questions that seek to define the topic on what it is versus what it is not, are the most beneficial.
Once you better understand their point of view you can give a more thoughtful response. You should have a better understanding of what they are and are not trying to say. If you were observing their non-verbal cues as they were talking, you can get a sense for how they feel about the topic. Your response cannot include relevant point as well as the right tone. I find that if I am trying to change behavior in the other person this is a suitable time for me to explain what I want AND what they want. I ask the other person or people to help me find solutions where we can both get what we want.
Reflect and Summarize
Most discussions will cycle through the first five steps multiple times. At the end of a discussion, I am learning to offer a reflection and summary of what we discussed. I have found in the moment we may be well aligned reaching that point of mutual understanding but later our memories distort the discussion. This happens more often when the topic creates an elevated level of emotion. Reflecting on what the other person shared, my response, and then summarizing what we resolved together reduces the chance of distortion.
These actions require restraint. I have found myself wanting to interject before the other person or people are doing speaking. I want to prepare my response. But those habits do not help me reach the strong engagement I want to get from my discussions with others. Those habits have discouraged other from listening to me.
If you are like me, going for a walk and speaking your left-over comments and thoughts to the trees can be therapeutic. Speaking to yourself about an emotional situation can allow your brain to better process your feelings. Talking through a complex problem aloud encourages your brain to engage in problem solving techniques. Everything we have to say does not need to be heard by another person. After you have practiced active listening with others, pour your heart out to the trees for they hear every word without judgement and hold the wisdom of generations before.
Try these tips to be a better listener and be heard. Share your results with me.