Self Improvement 14: Truly Listen

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truly listen

Has there ever been a situation where the other person completely misunderstood what you were saying?

If you want other people to trust you, then listen to what they have to say. If you want to be understood, then you also have to listen.

When we talk with people, we are often concentrating on what to say next or how to cut in than what the person is actually talking about. It’s all about me, me, me…

When you give your full attention, they will feel that. Your conversation partner will perceive you as an intense listener who’s really interested in the conversation. You will get a deeper understanding of your conversation partner and learn to see the point of view of other people.

This is active listening.

Listening is one of the most undervalued skills that everyone thinks they have mastered. When you seek to understand the other person’s point of view then focus on that.

But listening is like any other skill. You can learn to listen and then practice listening to become a better conversation partner. Watch this video Julian Treasure for some compelling arguments:

 

Below I have listed the five techniques that help you become a better listener. Write them down, make flashcards, or use other tactics to internalize and master the listening skill.

5 ways to listen better:

In our louder and louder world, says sound expert Julian Treasure, “We are losing our listening.” In this short, fascinating talk, Treasure shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening — to other people and the world around you.

1. Focus fully on your partner

First, focus fully on your conversation partner. If you have tried meditation, then approach listening the same way. Replace the focus on yourself and your body with full attention on the person you are talking with. Don’t think what you are going to say next, think only about what they are saying.

Truly listening requires considerable mental effort and you have to remind yourself to focus as your thoughts are trying to jump to other matters. Willfully bring your attention back to your partner every time the mind starts to wander. You will lose focus more often than you think possible and if you are not careful, you’ll forget to bring your focus back to the conversation and your partner.

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How to give your brain something to do that relates to the conversation and the person you are talking with? Following are the different aspects that help you build context and understand the other side better.

Action item:
In your next conversation focus on your partner. Do not think about what you are going to say next. Whenever your mind drifts to crafting answers, go back to the focused listening mode.

Ernest Hemingway quote listen

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. ~~Ernest Hemingway

The tone of voice

The tone of voice will speak volumes about how the words are meant to be taken. Happy, angry, funny, ironic, sad, etc. The same sentence may have opposite meaning depending on the how the speaker is saying it. Their pronunciation may give clues to their origins which in turn add to the understanding of how this may relate to the subject of the discussion.

Maybe someone has a tone of voice that distorts their message? Maybe they always sound angry without even realizing it. If you can detect that and act accordingly, then you may have just made a life-long friend.

Action item:
Focus on the tone of voice and try to understand how it interacts with the content of what the other person is saying.

Facial expressions

The expression on their face may have some clues about their attitudes. However, do not take expressions at face value. You may mistake concentration for anger or relaxation with arrogance. Combine the different aspects to get the coherent picture.

Along with the face, look at what their body is saying? Are they laid back and relaxed or on the edge of the? Are they leaning in or keeping their distance?

For example, there’s the “angry bitch face”. Some people may appear angry when they focus or thing deeply. The expression on their face has nothing to do with you, and sometimes people are unaware that they appear angry or even contemptuous to others.

The opposite is also true. There are people who always smile.

Action item:
Focus on and try to see through the body language and facial expressions. You will get more information and may make new friends.

The details

What word and phrases do they use?

  • This or that
  • Goal or objective
  • Soda or pop
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Take it in and weave it into your understanding of the topic and the person. Focusing on the words people use helps you get closer. We tend to like the people who use similar language and intonation.

The speed of their speech may hint at their emotional states. Are they talking fast because they are nervous, angry, or excited? Are they thoughtful or bored?

Are they happy to see you, or maybe they are in a hurry and actually want to get away from the conversation you are having? If you sense nervousness, do something to defuse the situation.

Action item:
Before having a conversation decide to focus on the other person’s use of language and emotional state.

Seek understanding

Seek understanding but don’t try to decipher all the signals you have collected. The mental load will lead to losing focus and defeating the point of this exercise. You want to be the sponge but leave the processing for later.

Do not judge and be on their side. You have all the time in the world to change sides and confront them. Start with the acceptance and attempt to see their side of the issue. If something is unclear ask for more details to fill blanks. If something seems contrary to what you believe, ask for an explanation. Make them talk more by asking:

  • and then,
  • really,
  • did I get that right,
  • how do/did you feel about that, etc.

You can apply this to any exchange — the 3-hours long philosophical discussion with the friend, the meeting with the client or the brief encounter with the checkout clerk. The key is to focus, not criticize and seek understanding, so your conversation partner feels your interest and respect.

Action item:
Learn the phrases that help you get the other person to open up and share details. Use flashcards or come back to this post after a week and reinforce what you have learned.

Now check out the other posts that help you understand other people better:

Now resolve to focus on conversations for just one day and see what happens.

________________________________________
Image: Giant listening device by James Vaughan
Image: Ernest Hemingway at the Finca Vigia, Cuba 1946 by Wikimedia Commons

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1 Response

  1. May 24, 2013

    […] Improve Your Life #14: Truly Listen […]

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