Are you listening to understand or listening to respond? When we listen to understand, we are attentive to the speaker by remaining silent, giving good eye contact (without staring), perhaps a smile or a head nod, being mentally present in the conversation and allowing the speaker the space and time to process their thoughts and feelings. Listening to respond occurs when we are anticipating our response, waiting for a second of silence to jump in with questions and comments, or worse to finish the speakers’ sentence! Listening (to understand) is a key component in building and maintaining any successful relationship including marriage, friendship, parent-child, professional and business. Some will discover they were blessed with the gift of listening to understand, while others must work to acquire and sharpen this skill.
What are the tools for being an effective listener?
Active listening is just that; we are actively concentrating on what is being said, rather than just hearing the message of the speaker. In other words-listening to understand! Listening is an active process; it is not something that just happens. Through this process, a conscious decision is made to make the shift from listening to hear to listening to understand.
What is the role of an active listener?
In communication between 2 people; 2 roles are assigned, sender (speaker) and receiver (listener). The sender sends the message and the receiver (listener) gives understanding. The listener’s role is imperative as it influences the sender to communicate more freely. The receiver gives understanding through nonverbal and verbal cues.
Facial expressions: Be mindful of the expressions you make when the speaker is talking. Frowning, smirking and lack of affect can be intimidating and shut down the lines of communication. Good eye contact (without staring) reinforces that you are listening and mentally present in the conversation. A smile may help the speaker relax thus communicating more freely.
Posture: Slouching, folding arms, clasping hands, hands on hips are examples of non-verbal cues that can send the message that you are disinterested or waiting for an opening to “attack.” Try sitting up straight with open arms and hands on lap or near your side. If you “talk with your hands”, sit on your hands to help with the urge to interrupt the sender. Open arms and attentive posture are non-judgmental stances that speak “I care about what you have to say” and “I am interested in you.”
Distractions: Limit distractions! Fidgeting, clock/watch watching, doodling, texting and staring into space can send the message that you are not interested in listening to the speaker and impatiently waiting for the conversation to end. If the receiver is engaging in any of these distractions, s/he is not able to be an active listener as s/he is not mentally present in the conversation.
After spending time listening to understand the sender, the receiver will use the following verbal cues to demonstrate understanding of the sender’s message.
Reflection: Listen for the message and consider the content and meaning being the sender’s message. For example, after listening to the message to reflect feeling, the receiver might say, “Are you saying you felt_____?” Then, go back into receiver role and allow sender to answer your question.
Clarification: Similar to reflection, but the receiver is clarifying gray areas by asking questions as opposed to assuming. To clarify, the receiver would ask an open ended question, “When you said _______, did you mean_____?” Then, go back into receiver role and allow sender to answer your question.
Summary: Repeat what the sender has said in your own words, by highlighting key points. This will allow the sender to inform the receiver if they got it right. If the sender says yes, you got it right, congratulations; you have learned the skill to listen to understand. Even, if the sender says no, it is okay to be wrong. Use this as an opportunity for sharpening your listening skills. As hard as it may be, sometimes we have to “Do something and sit there (and listen)!”
The outcome of “Listening to Understand” is not to figure out who was right versus who was wrong. The purpose is for one person to assume the receiver role and one person the sender role to be afforded the opportunity to resolve conflict to move forward in their marriage, friendships, professional relationships, business relationships and parent-child relationships.
I would love to hear your feedback. Please share your experiences or struggles with listening to understand in any relationship.