How to Listen
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. When you truly listen you need to zip the lip, close the cake hole, shut the hell up. You won’t be listening if you keep piping in with, “Oh yes, that happened to me that time when I….” or “Well you know what you should do about that now?” Unhelpful. Looking down at your phone won’t cut the mustard and nor will having all sorts of other distractions. If someone has something important they need to talk to you about then please turn off your phone – completely and go somewhere quiet. This act will show support and empathy. Don’t fit the talk in around a busy schedule. Make it clear how much time you have or rearrange for when you have more time. Cutting short a difficult situation is mean. An example of this would be talking to your poorly relative while driving and then getting cut off in a tunnel. This is a no, no.
Asking the question “What’s the matter?” Can you see anything tricky about this? Bit vague isn’t it? Can you be a bit more specific? “Tell me what it is that is bothering you at the moment?” This is more open. Also it implies that the issue is temporary and can be overcome.
Unless you are specifically looking for a yes/no answer then open ended questions will get much more information. Closed questions begin with
Do you? Are you? Have You? Will you?
Open ended questions are
“and then what happened?” This question expands the conversation beautifully and you can say it a few times. I learn masses when I ask this.
“When do you not feel like this?”
“How can this situation be made better?”
“What do you see yourself doing in two years from now?
“What will your life look like when you finally leave that horrible job?”
“What type of job are you looking for now?”
“How did you and your partner meet?’
“Give me two or three examples of when you felt confident in this role?”
These are counselling tricks of the trade and you can use them in any situation, at work or in your personal life. Mirror the other person. Don’t make it so obvious that it is noticed. If the other person is sitting crossed legged, you do the same. If they are speaking loudly you can too unless you are trying to deliberately bring the volume down and then you can gradually speak more quietly. This works when the conversation is tense.
If the other person is sitting forward, copy this and as they change you can too, but not like the young French boy sitting on the bench in Mr Bean’s Holiday (great film IMHO). Subtlety is the key. Make eye contact but don’t stare and if the other person is more introvert in nature then definitely don’t stare as this will make them feel very uncomfortable. As the person speaks nod your head from time to time. This shows you are listening. You can say “Yes, I see or uh ha, really? or Wow.
Sometimes the other person might be rambling a bit which makes it difficult for you to take everything in. You can interrupt politely by saying, “Can I just get this right? Or, Just so that I understand what you’re saying.” Then you can paraphrase what the person has said (not parrot fashion. In your own words). This is active listening and it really shows the other person that you understand what they are trying to say. You can add, “Have I got that right?” Or, “Is this what you mean?”
Asking for examples and using open ended questions get the conversation moving along. Imagine if you were on a date. A great way to make sure your companion really wants to see you again is to tell very little about yourself and use all the above techniques to learn everything about them. That person will feel listened to, cared about and have high self esteem. A win, win situation. This applies to a difficult chat with a relative, an interview or meeting an old acquaintance in the street.
Many people find the silences awkward. I did too. This is definitely worth some practise. Try not to jump in when all goes quiet for a bit. Some people need more time to process what has been said. It can be very confusing when too many instructions or topics are shared in close succession. Slow right down. Listen. You don’t want to miss the crux of the matter. When there is a pause, let it settle. Wait. Maybe look around a bit. Breathe. A few extra seconds can make all the difference. On a good few occasions the ‘thing’ has come right out of that silent moment.
Don’t know about you but when someone has listened to my story, really listened, I feel lighter, happier and very cared for. It makes me feel so good I want others to feel like that too and when they do they send me lovely reviews. That’s totally rewarding.