We are born with two ears and only one mouth. That means we should listen twice as much as we speak!
Don’t simply hear and make all the right noises–be an active participant and apply effective listening skills. Here are some quick tips for ramping up your listening:
- Encourage your speaker by acknowledging what they are saying: Nod, say “yes,” “Go on…,” “Tell me more…”. Encouraging responses make your speaker want to talk.
- Paraphrase or reformulate in your own words what the speaker has just said. This is not parroting or repeating, but rather using different words to rephrase your speaker. Example: “So what you’re saying is that…”, “What I’m hearing you say is that…” or “If I understand correctly, you’re telling me that…”. Avoid saying empty phrases such as “I understand.” Tell your speaker WHAT you understand.
- Show empathy. We do this in two ways: by reflecting feelings and by putting ourselves in the speaker’s shoes. To reflect feelings, simply name the feeling behind what your speaker is expressing: “You’re feeling upset about…” or “You sound very disappointed about…”. When showing empathy, you simply acknowledge that you’ve experienced that worry or frustration before, and without getting into your own story.
- Summarize meanings. You can do this at the end of an especially long listen, where you notice the conversation is going around in a circle and to bring closure. Again, apply the above active listening skills, and resume what you have heard. This is especially important during negotiations and setting agreements.
Practice these skills often and consistently. Doing this builds trust and relationship with others. Be present to your speaker–it’s the best gift you can give!
-Kelly L. Howarth