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How I Have Become A Better Listener by Suzy Drapkin

30 Mar Posted by in Blog Posts | Comments Off on How I Have Become A Better Listener by Suzy Drapkin
How I have become a better listener… 
Suzy Drapkin

Who are the people that you remember meeting?  The ones who are the loudest?  Those who make you laugh out loud? Those who don’t stop talking about themselves? Or those who seem to get who you are by really listening to what you are saying?Although I do remember those who make me laugh, because who can’t resist a good belly laugh, it is the person who really paid attention to me that I remember the most.  It is because he or she made me feel important and special by communicating to me in a special way. They demonstrated that they cared. Bill Clinton, (What is Bill Clinton Like In Person) our former president, has a reputation of being this kind of listener and making you feel like you are the most important person alive. This is called Active Listening.Active listening intentionally focuses on who you are listening to, whether in a group or one-on-one, in order to understand what he or she is saying.  As the listener, you should then be able to repeat back in your own words what they have said to their satisfaction.  This does not mean you agree with the person, but rather understand what they are saying.” –  Study Guides and Strategies

There’s much being said about how Active Listening is a much in demand skill in today’s work place.  Active listening is absolutely necessary when networking, dealing with customers, demonstrating leadership, providing supervision, interacting with friends, and loved ones.  It can be used with everyone and in almost every situation.

I know how hard it is to not just listen, but actively listen.  Sitting back and focusing on someone other than yourself can be difficult.  Keeping getting sidetracked from listening because of external stimuli takes effort.

I admit that I am an interrupter.  Yes, I always apologize when I do disrupt someone else’s mid-sentence thoughts.  I feel badly for doing so, but it doesn’t slow down my mile a minute ideas from competing with listening to someone else talk.  Even with awareness of this deeply ingrained behavior, I still have a difficult time restraining myself taking over the conversation.  This is after years of being trained as both a clinical and career counselor.  So, I continue to practice, practice, and practice this skill. I am happy to say that I listen better each time I am engaged in an exchange.

As I improve in my active listening skills, I realize this isn’t just the art of listening, it’s the art of giving. As I concentrate carefully, I am allowing others to feel validated.  They feel empowered, articulating and conveying thoughts reserved only for those who make the effort to pay close attention.  In exchange, I am learning through their verbal expressions and physical gestures how they think, their opinions, their world views, what things matter, what things are hurtful, funny, sad, or wonderful.   In a moment of suspended time a true connection has been made, even if just for a moment.

What are the steps needed to become a better listener?  

  1. Give undivided attention to the speaker.  If you are someone who is easily distracted by thoughts in her head or external stimuli like I am, with practice you can break this pattern. The key is to focus and I do mean focus on what the other person is saying.  When you find your mind straying, redirect yourself.  It helps to identify with the speaker by putting yourself in her place.
  2. Maintain direct eye-contact.  I have often wondered when someone is looking everywhere but at me, whether he has listened to a word that I said.  Eye-contact is essential to someone feeling assured and confident that you are paying attention.
  3. Non-verbal behavior is essential.  Head nods and appropriate facial expressions reflecting the emotions that the speaker is conveying is a great way to show that you are connected to her.  Facing towards the speaker, leaning in also demonstrates interest and encourages the speaker to continue talking.
  4. Re-statements or paraphrasing are important.  This ensures that you have heard the speaker correctly and validates to him that you are “really” listening.  If you are off-target, allow the speaker to correct you without reacting.
  5. Ask questions.  Questions demonstrate your interest and clarifies that you understand the speaker.
  6. Respond in a positive, non-intimidating manner.  It’s important that the speaker feel comfortable in talking with you.
  7. Venting can be helpful. If the speaker is agitated or angry, let him get his feelings off his chest. You don’t need to tell him your opinion, at least not at that moment.
  8. Be empathetic. If you feel comfortable and you think the speaker would find reassurance, you might display an appropriate physical touch such as hand on a shoulder to express your concern.
  9. Be Sincere! Don’t parrot a meaningless response.  Mean what you say!  There is nothing worse than when someone feels that they are being addressed in a patronizing or dismissive manner.
  10. Ask if feedback is desired. If you think that you have some positive, constructive response or solution that can help the speaker, ask first if she wants to hear it.  It is easy to want to be the expert because we have experience or we know what the correct action may be. The speaker may only want to be heard and not lectured or advised.  Sometimes, the best reaction is to bite our tongues and remain silent…and listen.
  11. Offer help. Only take this step if you feel that you really want to get involved and are able to contribute something meaningful in which the speaker will be aided.  Make sure if you commit that you will follow through.

If we were all better at listening, our relationships in and out of work would improve, we would have a greater understanding of others’ interests and needs, increase our ability to get our opinions heard, have less discord and less conflict with each other, and
enhance our lives overall.  Not a bad result for just lending an ear.