10 keys to listening with body as well as mind
Last week I talked about how hard it is to be a good listener and
I explored the benefits of improving listening skills. This week,
some concrete advice that you can put to work right away. So, forget
David Letterman. Here are my top 10 tips for better listening:
1. Get yourself in the right frame of mind to listen.
I call it my "listening mode." If you go into a conversation
or a meeting thinking, "God, this is going to be so boring.
I wish I could get out of here," you're in trouble. I find
that when I make a decision to listen because I think there might
be something said that can be helpful, I inevitably find something
of value. If I take the opposite approach, it is as bad as I thought
it would be.
Work to find a reason to listen. There could be a big payoff.
Let's not kid ourselves. This is hard stuff. I'm not talking about
simply hearing what is said, but listening. Don't concentrate on
what you are preparing to say in response or in rebuttal to what
you think is being said. When you do this, you tend to miss important
information. This is what I call "listening defensively."
3. Fight the urge to interrupt.
It's really irritating to the other person. Think of how you feel
when it is done to you.
4. Practice patience.
Take a breath or two. Try not to finish the other person's sentence.
I can't tell you how many times I've done this and found out that
I was wrong about what the other person was going to say. Plus,
even if you're right, it's a turnoff.
5. Being a good listener doesn't mean you have to shut your
Be an "active listener" in conversations or meetings.
Occasionally paraphrase what you think someone is saying--"So,
what you're saying is" or "I just want to be clear on
this." Be empathetic. By doing this you are acknowledging the
other person and what he or she is saying. It is a powerful communication
6. Keep your eyes on the other person.
Fight the urge to look around the room. Sure, there are distractions,
but when you make a decision to listen with your mind and body,
you will be amazed at your ability to concentrate. I'm not advocating
that you stare like some sort of nut. Just let the other person
know that you are present with them. Focused, steady eye contact
7. Use "encouragers" in conversation.
Things like, "really," hmmm," or "c'mon?"
Don't be a pest, but send the message that you are truly interested
in what is being said and want to know more. Acknowledge the other
person. They will tend to open up and share with you.
8. Find common ground with the other person.
Find out some things about the other person before you start talking.
Bring up things that both of you share--family, sports, education,
background, previous jobs etc. This isn't a gimmick. It is a very
real way of getting to know someone before you start talking "business."
It breaks the ice and makes it easier to listen.
9. Use your body language to show your interest.
Lean toward the speaker instead of slouching back. Keep your arms
and hands open and relaxed. Never cross your arms if you want to
send the message that you really want to listen and know more. As
fellow columnist Carol Kleiman wrote on this page recently, "Body
language often speaks loudest."
10. Finally, try not to judge the speaker.
We get so caught up with whether or not we agree with the other
person's point of view, we tend to miss out on opportunities to
truly understand what he or she is saying. It is not that important
that we agree. What is important is that we connect on a human,
personal level. That's about understanding. That's about trust.
Remember, when it comes to being a great communicator, listening
is often more than half the battle.
Dr. Steve Adubato coaches and speaks on the subjects of communication
and leadership and is the author of the book "Speak from the
Heart." Write to him at The Star-Ledger, 1 Star-Ledger Plaza,
Newark, NJ 07102, visit his Web site at www.stand-deliver.com,
or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to Star Ledger