Has anybody ever told you that you’re a good listener? Or accused you of not listening? How often do you hear the rhetorical “Listen” at the start of a political commentary, or in answer to a debate question? I challenge you to be aware of the word for a day or two, and you’ll no doubt realize how casually it’s being batted around.
James Cash Penney once said, “The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.”
It’s also important to relationship success, and so is not listening. Too often we are more focused on what we’re going to say next instead of actually hearing what the other person is telling us, and of equal importance, what the other person isn’t telling us. I am reminded of the Paul Simon classic lyric: “People talking without speaking, people listening without hearing, people writing songs that voices never shared…”
We all could sharpen our listening skills, and there are four easy steps to take along the path of becoming a better listener.
Step 1: Remember that listening is respectful, and showing respect to a colleague, friend, family member, service provider, etc., is the right thing to do.
Step 2: Observe the body language of the person talking. Is she leaning in because she’s feeling strongly about what she’s saying? Is he having difficulty making eye contact with you?
Step 3: Repeat back what you thought you heard. “Just so I fully understand you, are you saying …?” Obviously, there’s some picking and choosing here, otherwise you’ll be annoying, and not a better listener. Use some discretion.
Step 4: Acknowledge that you not only listened, but you actually heard. This is a tricky one because it most likely involves having some empathy, or sympathy, or compassion. By acknowledging the other person’s feelings (irrespective of whether you actually agree), you are validating the entire conversation. “You sound like you’re frustrated.” “I would also feel betrayed if that happened to me.” “I know you’re embarrassed, but it will all be forgotten in a few days.”
Do you see those feeling words? Frustrated, betrayed, embarrassed are some examples. So are: joyful, optimistic, thankful, grateful.
Mediators have tool boxes packed with feeling words, and can help you accurately express your feelings so that you believe you’ve been listened to, that you’ve been heard, and that you’ve been understood. The transition from conflict to resolution is significantly easier once an understanding has been reached.