3 strategies To become an expert listener.

People have a deep need to feel heard.

Of course, it’s easy to say “Yes, I’m listening”—but are you really? Do you know how your coworker responded when you asked “How are you?” Were you listening with intent to understand, or thinking about your own response?

When you have a caller on the line, there are a number of ways you can verbally express you’re listening—acknowledgment, using their name, and confirming information to list a few. And while these tactics also apply when meeting with someone face-to-face, there are many other factors that come into play.

Leadership Development Champion Janel Hodge is an avid student of the art of listening. After pioneering roles at Ruby such as scheduler, team lead, and trainer, Janel spent four years as a Star Service & Receptionist Cultivator, honing Ruby’s unique management style. In her current role, Janel helps Rubys unleash their talents and gain new perspectives—a key component of which is developing excellent listening skills. Here are a few of her tips.

Body Language
Much of what others communicate is more than simply what they’re saying. Part of being an expert listener is recognizing your audience through body language. Are they distracted, fidgeting, or not making eye contact? Are their arms folded as if concerned?
If you pay attention, a speaker’s body language can provide additional context to better understand what he or she is trying to communicate—or what they aren’t saying. Body language even goes so far as to build rapport. Physical gestures such as a slightly tilted head, leaning in, or relaxed hands can better indicate listening and build trust with the speaker.

Autobiographical Responses
Humans naturally form recognition through personal experience. Steven Covey has found humans perform four actions when engaged in communication: evaluate, probe, advise, and interpret—all from our own frame of reference. While using our experience saves time, it can also lead to incorrect assumptions. Always responding from your own experience is limiting. Recognize this tendency, aiming to keep your mind neutral and open.

Listening with your Ears, Eyes and Heart
We’ve all laughed at sitcom episodes depicting the stereotypical marriage conversation where one partner pretends to listen to the other. Due to the lack of attention, one person agrees to do something without knowing what the other said, hilarity ensues, and the show ends with the person learning their lesson.

We’ve all been guilty of pretending to listen, or selectively listening to a conversation. To really move into the deepest level of listening, however, you need to place yourself within the other person’s frame of reference, or empathetic listening. As Michael P. Nichols puts it, “Genuine listening means suspending memory, desire, and judgement—and for a few moments, at least, existing for the other person.” This deepest level of listening requires trust, and the ability to connect with the speaker’s emotions. To practice empathetic listening:

  • Reflect Feeling: “I can see why this scheduling conflict is frustrating you. This back and forth would upset me too, and I certainly don’t want you to feel that way.”
  • Rephrase Content: “So, what I’m hearing you say is, it’d be more convenient to hold the meeting at 10:00 AM instead of 2:00 PM.”
  • Ask Questions For Better Understanding: “Would it make your workday less stressful if I went ahead and scheduled the meeting for 10:00 AM?”
  • Take the Time: Cutting a tough conversation short can prevent communication moving to a deeper level and discovering the root of the issue.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey

There’s a big difference between hearing and listening. It’s easy to ask a question—it’s waiting for the answer, and absorbing the response that’s the kicker. When interacting with someone face-to-face, take care that your body is communicating your desire to listen, and that you’re avoiding framing the conversation with your own experience. You’ll find you’ll have better, more fruitful conversations that leave everyone feeling satisfied.

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