The Secret We All Keep

“Listen to me!”

Everyone silently screams those three words. Bosses to employees, employees to bosses, spouses to each other, parents to children, children to parents, voters to politicians, talk show hosts to their audience – the list is endless. We all crave to be heard and to be understood. We all just know that if the other person were to truly listen, he or she would surely understand our point of view. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn’t, mostly because the other person has an entirely different frame of reference. They really DO see things differently than you.

Pastors are usually wonderful listeners, but unless you’re talking with a psychologist or life coach who’s paid $350/hour to listen to you, that other person is usually too busy wanting YOU to listen to him, just waiting for an opening to speak, and sometimes not waiting! And it’s a shame, too. Listening, really listening is always worth the effort since listening allows you to gain information, clarity and knowledge.

There are different types of listening:

  • Listening just enough to argue.
  • Listening to find a weakness in the argument and disregard it.
  • Listening to appease.
  • Listening to understand.

That last type of listening is ACTIVE listening. It is the type of listening that seeks to understand and learn. Active listening admits that there is more information available. It realizes that there are more than two sides to any situation, potentially many more. You know when someone is actively listening to you.

Develop ACTIVE listening skills

Learning how to actively listen requires patience and practice:

  1. Seek common ground. Find nuggets that you DO agree with and that interest you. You’ll listen better when you’re interested.
  2. Focus on what the speaker is trying to say. Don’t rush to judgment because someone cannot verbalize very well. It’s easy to be so busy judging the speaker on technique, appearance and personality that you no longer listen to the words.
  3. Wait until the speaker finishes. Resist the urge to jump to conclusions after a few words, and don’t develop your response — positive or negative — while the person is speaking. When you’re developing a response, you aren’t listening.
  4. Summarize main ideas. As you listen, summarize what the speaker says and concentrate on finding the main gist of the words. This is “mental note-taking.”
  5. If it’s appropriate, take physical notes on the important points so you can refresh your memory at a later time.
  6. Avoid distractions. If you’re in an office, turn away from the windows, mute the phone and the radio, and don’t pay attention to email or the Crackberry Blackberry. Give your FULL attention to the person speaking. If you’re attending a presentation or a class, sit in the front rows. You’ll be amazed how many fewer interruptions and distractions there are. You’ll also be amazed at how much better you can listen.
  7. Don’t filter the message. If you put up a filter of preconceived ideas or other past experiences, you’ll only hear what you expect to hear. That isn’t listening!
  8. Read between the lines. Observe the speaker’s body language to help you listen with your eyes and ears to ensure a better understanding of the message.

Listening is hard for me personally. I tend to have a lot of ideas that flow into my head all at once and many times I can’t keep them sorted until it’s my turn to speak. That’s where notes become really important for me.

What tips and techniques do you have for learning to be a better listener?

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