Living the Dream

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How to improve your communication skills: be an effective listener March 8, 2009

Listening seems easy enough, but actually it’s an art that requires much time and practice to master. We’ve all encountered situations in which we’ve misinterpreted or made assumptions about what somebody said, only to lead to massive misunderstanding and possibly arguments! This is why it’s critical to be an active listener. When you are in the listener role, your job is to support the person who is speaking. You are not going to get very far if you just sit there and let their words go in one ear and out the other. If you care about the speaker, let them know through active listening.

Ways to respond while your partner is speaking:

  1. Show that you understand your partner’s statements and accept his/her right to have those thoughts and feelings, even if you disagree with their content. Let him/her speak for some time before interjecting with your own speech. When you do pipe up, reflect and summarize your partner’s most important feelings, desires, conflicts, and thoughts. Especially focus on feelings, as this is often what can deepen the conversation and lead to a deeper level of understanding. This means you’ll be doing some guesswork regarding what your partner is really trying to say- it’s trial and error. Sometimes you’ll get it wrong, sometimes you’ll be right on target. With practice, you’re going to improve.
  2. Demonstrate this acceptance through your tone of voice, facial expressions, and posture.
  3. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and look at the situation from his/her perspective, in order to determine how s/he feels and thinks about the issue. If there’s a problem at stake, your partner already has the solution. Thing is, s/he may not be aware of it due to confusion or emotional overload. That’s where your critical role as the listener comes in. The listener’s job is to do some detective work and help the speaker come to peace with the topic at hand. As mentioned in #1, you must try to peel back the layers of what your partner has said and figure out what is going on underneath. Focus on feelings, try to guess what is at stake for your partner. Use your partner’s words– there’s no better way to make a person feel validated than by using their language.

While you are the listener, DO NOT:

  1. Express your own opinion or perspective.
  2. Think about how your partner’s words affect you– your job is to be helping them when you are in the listener role. You will get your turn as the speaker.
  3. Offer solutions or attempt to solve a problem without being asked.
  4. Make judgments or evaluate what your partner said.

 

With these skills, we hope you will become a better, more active listener!

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