“Ya, ya! I am listening,” I said as I unloaded the dishwasher. No! I was not. I was not using the listening skills that I know and profess helps improve relationships.
I thought, the family dog does a better job at providing unconditional attention and affection. Indeed, a 2010 AP-Petside.com poll reported its findings from interviewing 1,112 pet owners. Here are the conclusions:
- 33% of pet-owning married women in the U.S. said their pets are better listeners than their husbands
- 18% of pet-owning married men said their pets are better listeners than their wives
- Roughly 10% pet-owners said they would talk their troubles over with their pets
So, how do we get on par with our pet or at least improve our listening? The basic listening skills described below only require commitment, care and a wee bit of practice. Regardless of how easy they are, they are powerful in helping others feel heard, cared about and often healed.
Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People famously wrote,
Seek first to understand.”
Seeking first to understand is the beginning attitude to effective listening. Demonstrate a willingness to listen and to understand. How? Set your intention to actively listen. When you are intentionally listening it may look like you are doing little, but you are indeed focused, attentive and active! Consider yourself an active listener with these steps.
Stop what you are doing. Sit down so that you can both be attentive and relaxed. Indicate you are listening with open body language, gentle eye contact and the words, “I’m listening.”
- Now and then say, “Thank you”, or “Okay”, or “Tell me more”.
- When you do not understand say, “I don’t understand”, or “Help me understand.” Another prompt is, “Please tell me that in a different way.”
Add to Step Two. When you hear emotions in the voice, catch the word or phrase associated with the feeling and say, “Tell me . . . ” Example: “Tell me more about doing it all alone.” The phrase “Tell me more” is helpful in almost every conversation whether you are a designated listener or not.
Empathic listening happens in this step. An effective listener is not just tapping into the words or story but all the associated feelings.
Optional Step 1: Guess the Speaker’s Feelings
Those with a strong feeling vocabulary can help the speaker by guessing what feelings may be under the words. Say, “It sounds like you are feeling sad.” Feelings tell us everything about what is important to us but little about how to manage the world. The best of listening helps the speaker discover his or her inner world of thoughts and feelings. Make your reflective listening a guess. You don’t know exactly what the speaker is feeling. But when you imagine yourself in their situation, what might you feel? Make your guess sound tentative. The speaker will nod in agreement, name another emotion or simply say “No.” Remember, it is a comfort to know someone is seeking to understand. Here are few prompts:
- “It sounds like you are feeling . . .
- “Might you be feeling . . . ?”
- “If I were you, I would feel . . . “
- “I see tears. Looks like you are feeling hurt?”
- “Merely hearing this I feel . . . You?”
Optional Step 2: Include Questions
Ask a few open-ended questions using how, who, what, when and where to help you follow the speaker’s story. Be careful not to ask a lot of questions as they tend to take the speaker back into thinking mode. To begin, we want the speaker to engage with their internal feelings. Questions, however, can be very helpful once we are ready to think about solutions.
Optional Step 3: Summarize
When the speaker’s feelings calm, summarize in one sentence the problem or theme. Example: “It sounds like you do not feel valued here.”
Optional Step 4: Problem Solve
This step moves the speaker and listener into problem solving. Ask, “Do you want to talk about some solutions to this problem?”
Listening is a rare and tender gift we can give others. Thank you, for your willingness to use it.
Let us know how you do with listening and what road blocks you run into. OK?
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.