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9 Tools for Better Listening

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Are you having trouble connecting to someone you care about? Does a friend refuse your attempts to fix a situation that is upsetting her? Do your employees seem to constantly do what you tell them not to do? Listening may be the answer. Really listening to someone is the key to successful communication, whether with coworkers, friends, lovers, or even a customer service rep. But what does it mean to truly hear someone? Some people think that listening involves not saying anything at all. This approach reminds me of a romcom I saw several years ago about an ex-con who successfully convinced a town he was a psychotherapist simply by staring blankly and saying nothing when people shared their woes with him. Despite the fact that he was a fraud, the guy was onto something. Sometimes remaining silent is exactly what people need to feel heard. But at other times reflective or active listening, in which the listener speaks, too, is the necessary medicine. This may be especially true when folks are actively seeking a solution to a problem, want to figure out how they feel about a situation, and/or want to feel connected to the person they are talking to. Here’s how to do it. 1. Set your intention to carefully listen. Don’t underestimate the power of intention to influence any interaction. 2. Repeat back what you heard, but in your own words, being careful not to insert or infer your opinion about the issue. It is very important to set aside your own agenda and just focus on what the person you are listening to is actually saying. 3. Use what are referred to as “listening sounds”—“Ah,” “Hmm” etc.—to let others know that they have your attention. 4. Name the emotion. “You sound sad.” 5. Be curious about what is really happening. Ask clarifying questions. “Was it what he was doing or why he was doing it that made you uncomfortable?” 6. Use your intuition to flesh out what is being said—and not said. Trust your gut. Don’t be afraid of letting people know what you are sensing about an issue. It gives them the chance to get clearer about what they think and feel. “I hear that she really irritates you, and what I’m also sensing is that you don’t trust her.” 7. Be willing to be corrected. If you take a guess at perceiving someone else’s reality, be open to receiving feedback: “No, that’s not it. It’s more like this.” 8. Tune in to grace. If you are helping someone find a solution to a problem, make space for unexpected insights or inspiration to emerge. 9. When you hear “Yes, that’s it!” or “Exactly!,” you know you’re doing a good job. Listening is not a cut-and-dried affair. Like any art, it takes practice. Most people will appreciate that you are trying. If all else fails, take a note from the ex-con (and Elmer Fudd): Be very, very quiet.

Photo by Nick Fewings

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