Six ways to deeply lis­ten & in­crease your un­der­stand­ing

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Dr Suzanne Hen­wood

Have you ever been in mid con­ver­sa­tion with some­one and then re­alised they are wait­ing for you to re­ply and you have no idea what they have just asked you? Your mind had won­dered? While you are not fully lis­ten­ing, you will think about times that you can re­late to, shared ex­pe­ri­ences, search­ing for how that feels, so you can em­pathise with the other per­son and in do­ing so jump in with what you want to say. We all do it. But this means that we have stopped lis­ten­ing to un­der­stand.


Be­come aware of your com­mu­ni­ca­tion style – re­flect on your pref­er­ences in how you com­mu­ni­cate, so that you can adapt your way of speak­ing and lis­ten­ing to hon­our oth­ers. Ex­am­ples in­clude:

• Do you pre­fer big pic­ture or de­tail? At work, if your boss is giv­ing you the big pic­ture, but you want the de­tail, then you will not be fully lis­ten­ing but con­sid­er­ing what else to ask, so that you can make even bet­ter sense of what you are be­ing told.

• Do you speak lit­er­ally or in­fer­en­tially? When I say to my hus­band ‘the bin needs emp­ty­ing’, I speak in­fer­en­tially. My hus­band how­ever is lit­eral in his ap­proach and re­quires me to say specif­i­cally what and when some­thing is to be done.

• Which sense do you process in­for­ma­tion with (sight, sound, ki­naes­thetic feel­ing, smell, taste)? If I de­scribe my hol­i­day and in do­ing so talk about the sound of the sea, the dif­fer­ent bird calls and you pre­fer vis­ual pro­cess­ing, then you will not be lis­ten­ing to me, but cre­at­ing your own images and story in your head. By un­der­stand­ing your own pref­er­ences, you can be alert to any dif­fer­ences and ad­just your lis­ten­ing to un­der­stand.

2. Ac­tive lis­ten­ing.

Be in­ten­tional in your lis­ten­ing. Have your full fo­cus on the other per­son and what they are say­ing (both ver­bally and non-ver­bally). Mind­ful lis­ten­ing is about be­ing gen­uinely in­ter­ested in the topic of con­ver­sa­tion, with­out the in­ten­tion to judge, cor­rect or of­fer your views. Your in­ten­tion is to hear and un­der­stand.

Most peo­ple do not lis­ten with the in­tent to un­der­stand; they lis­ten with the in­tent to re­ply. Steven Covey

You might demon­strate this by hav­ing ap­pro­pri­ate eye con­tact, be­ing face to face, put­ting down any­thing you were work­ing on or hold­ing, so that you can con­cen­trate fully on the other per­son.

3. En­cour­age talk­ing.

En­cour­age talk­ing with­out in­ter­rupt­ing us­ing non-ver­bal prompts like smil­ing, nod­ding, re­tain­ing eye con­tact and with body lan­guage. Lean in to­wards the per­son to show in­ter­est. Avoid the temp­ta­tion to in­ter­rupt or in­ter­ject. Any in­ter­rup­tion to flow can de­rail the per­sons thought and pre­vent them from fin­ish­ing what they wished to share. Avoid com­plet­ing sen­tences for them or jump­ing in with a story of your own. Show re­spect for the other per­son by let­ting them ex­plain, ex­plore, share un­til nat­u­ral com­ple­tion. Let them fully ex­press them­selves and then show that you have heard and un­der­stood. This is one of the great­est gifts you can give an­other per­son – and they will no­tice and be grate­ful for it.

4. Em­brace dif­fer­ence in opin­ion.

It very likely at some point that you will be in­volved in con­ver­sa­tion where you

dis­agree with some or all of what is ex­pressed. In­stead of see­ing that as right and wrong, em­brace the dif­fer­ence and value dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Get cu­ri­ous about how other peo­ple see the world. In prac­tice this re­quires see­ing a sit­u­a­tion from an­ther per­sons per­spec­tive: walk­ing in their shoes. A great ques­tion to ask is, ‘In what cir­cum­stances could this be true?’ Lis­ten with an in­ten­tion of un­der­stand­ing; car­ing for the other per­son and re­spect­ing their right to have their own views. There is a caveat to this – it is not about you put­ting your­self down or let­ting some­one walk all over you. This is about mu­tual re­spect. If you are not be­ing re­spected, or you feel un­safe in any way, you can po­litely stop the con­ver­sa­tion and walk away.

5. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is more than words.

We talk about ‘Ac­tions speak louder than words’. This is es­pe­cially true of emo­tions. If there is a mis­match be­tween words spo­ken and body lan­guage, peo­ple be­lieve the body lan­guage. This is also true when lis­ten­ing. Be aware of your body lan­guage to en­sure it is not show­ing any lack of in­ter­est.

6. Check­ing it out

To show that you have lis­tened, it is a good idea to:

• Sum­marise back what you have heard, giv­ing the per­son an op­por­tu­nity to say, ‘that is not what I said’ or ‘that’s not what I meant’. • Ask a ques­tion to check that you heard cor­rectly. This can be done at any point when there is a lull or pause, but never in mid-sen­tence or flow.

• This is not about hav­ing the last word – it is to re­spect the other per­son and show that you are ac­tively lis­ten­ing to un­der­stand. It is im­pos­si­ble to en­ter a con­ver­sa­tion with­out your own his­tory, val­ues and ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s nat­u­ral to re­fer to what you al­ready know, to un­der­stand what you have heard. By be­ing aware of your own views and recog­nis­ing when they are dif­fer­ent from oth­ers, you can con­trol your re­ac­tion and en­sure you re­tain a re­spect­ful ac­tive lis­ten­ing stance. This means that you re­spect oth­ers enough to al­low them to ex­press them­selves freely and that you care enough about them to lis­ten. Dianne Shilling said in a Forbes Mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle, ‘Gen­uine Lis­ten­ing has be­come a rare gift – the gift of time.’ One of the great­est gifts we can give an­other per­son is the time to lis­ten. To let them know they are seen and heard and we are lis­ten­ing to un­der­stand.

Dr Suzanne Hen­wood is the Direc­tor and Lead Coach and Trainer of mBrain­ing4Suc­cess. She is also the CEO of The Healthy Work­place and a Master Trainer and Master Coach of mBIT (Mul­ti­ple Brain In­te­gra­tion Tech­niques) and can be con­tacted via her web­site.

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