“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, that I teach 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 a commitment, caring 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.”
That is the attitude with which you want to begin. Demonstrate a willingness to listen and to understand.
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.
Optional Step 1: Include 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.
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 us 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 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
When feelings calm, invite the speaker to problem solve and 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.
Note: The above is adapted from the book From Woe to WOW: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work.
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Let us know how you do with listening and what road blocks you come into. OK?