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How to listen

“Are you even listening?” she asked with a confused look on her face.

“Yes, of course. . .go on.”

“Well, I just told you everything. What do you think?”

Uh oh. Really? Did you say everything? Then how come it seems I never heard a word?

Everyone loves to be listened. To be understood, to be interesting. In our hearts of heart, we are really simple creatures who want attention. Attention boosts our ego and helps us feel better about ourselves.

Think about it: Don’t you just love it when a friend, your spouse or colleague really pays attention and listens to you? You feel valued and worthy of their time. And you develop a liking for them.

There is a fine distinction between appearing to be a good listener and being one. I see many people on a daily basis, and when I first started behavioural coaching, I found it hard to be there for them and listen. Quite frankly, I struggled with the question of how to listen to someone.

For starters, it’s natural to be tempted to think about our response while some one is talking. Or we interrupt them with [insert cool idea here] as they are talking. Remember the last time someone did that to you? You lost the train of thought and felt they were being a moron.

The following simple techniques came to my rescue when I was distracted when someone spoke. As if by magic, these techniques worked every time I applied them.

People started opening up more easily. They were warm. It was as if we were both speaking the same language!

To be in tune with others and understand how to listen to someone, try the following steps and let me know what you think:

1. Be focussed

Really focus on where they are coming from. Many times, a lot is left unsaid and you have to read between the lines. Focus on them, not on you. Dale Carnegie rightly said, “To be interesting, be interested.”

How can you be interested? Many ways. Stop the continuous mental chatter that’s going on in your head as they speak. “It’s so cold today, wonder how’s the weather tomorrow?”, “I really got to finish that assignment tonight”, “What’s for dinner?”

As you’re lost in engaging your mini-me (the small voice that yaps non-stop), you speaker senses it. You appear as distracted, although externally you may be doing everything right.

Humans are great multi-taskers – you’d be nodding and verbally acknowledging them. But if you do not really listen, they’ll know. People pick up vibes easily.

2. Be OK with silence

One of the principles in coaching is to be quiet and wait even though there has been a long pause. This is to respect the other person and be there for them whole-heartedly. It’s a muscle you develop with practice.

Silence is uncomfortable. When listening to someone, it’s natural to want to interrupt them as soon as there the speaker pauses. By doing that, we feel we’re extending our support to that person.

But what really happens is that the speaker may want to add something or is not yet finished. By interrupting, you rob yourself of an opportunity to understand them better and build a great relationship.

Instead, be patient, nod and wait for your turn or until they ask you a question. I know it sounds unnatural. But it will work wonders for you.

3. Be curious

Curiosity is a great quality to have. Be really curious about them. Probe them in a way they feel in tune with you. Questioning is a powerful skill and it can help you win lots of friends.

If there’s something you need more information on, ask questions and make it easier for them to answer it by asking at the right time.

Don’t question when they are doing the talking. Questioning is a skill and when done right, it can make the person feel valued and understood. But use it with caution. You don’t want to appear as overly interrogative or impatient.

Not only can you probe them but you can ask great questions to yourself too. Understand their stance by asking yourself, “Why did they say that? What’s their POV? What’s left unsaid? What’s implicit?” You get the drift.

4. Mirror

Mirroring is a great technique that I first learned from Tony Robbins. Most sales people use it to build rapport. Basically, you become the mirror for other person. If they are leaning forward with head tilted slightly toward their right, you’d do the same except as in a mirror image of this: lean forward with head slightly tilted toward left.

Mirroring is not to be overdone or done too literally (otherwise they will think you are mimicking J) Instead, make it subtle. You can extend it to “micro-actions” such as blinking of their eyes, breathing rate, facial movements etc.

When you bring in mirroring techniques with your listening skills, you will find people open up to you much faster and easily. In other words, it’s a non-verbal pact of building trust on a subconscious level.

5. Look for the message within message

As I mentioned before, a lot is being said but not everything is verbal. To understand how to listen better, look beyond the words. Listen intently with your heart.

Make mental note of their gestures as they speak – Was that a shuffle of discomfort in their chair as they spoke about their daughter? Did their eyes just twinkle as they mentioned that “may be” business idea?

By paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues, you will be far better off as a great listener.

6. Rephrase

To be on the same page, keep checking in at intermittent intervals by rephrasing what they said up until now. You don’t have to repeat everything to them from the start – just the important highlights. Also don’t use monotone and their exact sentences because it may appear as if you’re mimicking them.

In coaching, I keep checking in with the person I am sitting with and establish rapport as we talk. I will use a phrase such as “So what I am hearing you say. . .”, “So what I am seeing here is. . .” etc.

7. Match their modality

Every person has a dominant modality that they use. Major modalities most people use are Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic (VAK). There is another modality known as Auditory Digital but it’s made of the first three, so we’ll focus on those.

When rephrasing or questioning, make sure you match their dominant modality. So if they keep using visual words such as “I saw that as an insult” “Can you visualize how beautiful it was?” “It was so picturesque!” If they tend to use a lot of graphic components and imagery in their language, they are Visual person, so you match them by using similar words.

An auditory person might say something like, “His words were music to my ears” “I didn’t like the sound of it” “Her tone was harsh”.

A kinaesthetic person is feeling or doing-based. In other words, their internal world is made of feelings and or “doing” words. They’d often say something like, “It feels soft as fur”, “It was out of my grasp – I gave up!” “I grappled with the issue at work.”

The better you match their modalities, the easier it gets to understand their model of the world and be a great listener.

I consistently apply these techniques in my relationships. It’s easy to lose focus, but as soon as I catch my mind wandering, I bring it back by using the tips above.

How do you listen to someone you care about? Please share your tips with us!

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Image by visualpanic.

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