§ November 4th, 2010 § Filed under communication, marketing, small business, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § 1 Comment

“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”- Sue Patton Thoele

Over the past ten months, I have written about all sorts of problems and issues in communication. This month’s topic is the most important communication skill anyone can develop – listening. In fact, I found so many quotations about listening, it was hard to choose, so I’m going to use a few.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

We are a population of non-listeners. Even those who are moderately skilled at listening have to work at it. How often have you “listened” to someone while planning what your response will be? How often has your mind strayed? How often have you paid more attention to your surroundings than to the person in front of you?

Here is an exercise to increase your listening skills. The next time your spouse, child, friend or coworker starts talking, resist the temptation to interrupt. Respond with an appropriate nod or shake of your head, or murmur “Hmm” or “Oh.” Let the person complete his or her thoughts. When he or she takes a breath, look thoughtful and count to ten before responding to make sure the person is finished. If the person does not speak again in those ten seconds, carry on the conversation as usual. If the person starts to talk again, stay quiet. In the next pause, count to ten again. I know this will feel awkward at first, but try it. If the person you are talking to notices a difference, tell him or her that you are improving your listening skills.

“If you spend more time asking appropriate questions rather than giving answers or opinions, your listening skills will increase” – Brian Koslow

Listening well is a skill that can be learned. Like any other skill, improvement takes practice. Learning to ask questions that help you to understand what the speaker means will improve your listening skills, but will also help create rapport with the speaker. Your questions let the speaker know that you value what he or she has said, that you seek to understand his or her point. In doing the above “counting to ten” exercise, when the person has stopped talking, ask some clarifying questions. These questions might start with phrases like

  • “It appears as if…”
  • “You feel…”
  • “It seems like…”
  • “As I understand it, you sound…”
  • “If I hear you correctly, you’d like…”

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation” – Chinese Proverbs

Creating that rapport and letting the speaker know that you are paying attention is the first step toward true communication. It is also a first step toward agreement. If you can truly understand what the other person is thinking, you may have a chance to give him or her insight into your viewpoint.

When we live in such a divided country, it is critical that we understand what others are saying. On this post-election day, I’ll leave you with this one.

“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” – Kenneth A. Wells

Try these exercises at your Thanksgiving Day table. It might make the whole day more enjoyable. Happy Thanksgiving!

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