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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Part 4: Listening Well Helps Get Your Message Across

Has someone said to you, "Thank you so much! You've been a big help," when you said next to nothing during the conversation?  Most of us have experienced this phenomenon.  It's the art of listening well.  Sometimes it happens because you can't get a word in edgewise.  Sometimes you realize in the midst of the other person talking, this conversation isn't about you and your offering to it, but to listen and let the other person tell their story and become unburdened.  Either way, listening well is a developed skill that will serve you well as you move through life.

What if I told you, by listening well, your children would never tell you, "You don't understand!" or "You never listen to me!" When I learned this to be the case, I grabbed hold with both ears and started living this out from inside my home outward.  There are two mother/child listening exchanges at the bottom of this post that use the techniques outlined below.

We've talked about Reflective Listening.  This is where you repeat back exactly what has been said to you.  You don't paraphrase, you use the exact same words.  This is especially important in the youngest of children and the most heated of exchanges.  Using the exact same language lets the other person know they have been heard.  I know, you're thinking it's great they feel heard, but I haven't gotten in my two cents, yet.  Hang tight, your time will come.  

When someone feels heard they feel better.  They feel as though you understand - whether or not you wind up in agreement is another matter entirely. Once your conversation partner(s) feel heard and can relax that they've gotten their point across, you can do the same.  Seize the moment!  "I completely understand where you're coming from.  Let me explain my perspective so we fully understand one another."  It would be rude for them to say no.  Not that that would stop anyone, but mostly, you'll get to have your say.

Making the Most of Reflective Listening

Use Their Words.  When it's time to make your point - use their words.  Are there "guidelines" being referenced? Is it a "special circumstance?"  Use their words in your reply and they'll make the connection.  

Don't Rush.  Don't rush your thoughts into words!  Speak thoughtfully and hold up your hand as a non-verbal cue to let the other person know you're not done talking and they shouldn't interrupt.  When you hold up your hand, do it like you're saying "one minute."  Don't shove your hand out in front between you both.  Be sensitive, but firm.  Don't be afraid to say, "I listened fully to you, I'd like for you to do the same."  It's at this point you'll be able to assess whether or not they are invested in conversation that will take you to the next level or if they are solely interested in winning you over to their perspective.  Are they willing to concede they see your point of view?  This doesn't mean they agree with you, but that they understand.  This is a very mature stance to take and not everyone has the ability to do it.

More on Listening Well
The best way to listen is to NOT TALK.  Close your mouth.  Shut up.  Nod in agreement to keep them talking.  Remember, the more you hear, the more you understand - so that your message can be fully grasped when you guide them through it by way of their talking and their own words.  

Remain Focused
Do not think on your response.  Do not wait for your turn to talk.  When you do this, you stop listening.  How do you remain focused?  Two things to listen for:  connections and curiosity.  Listen for connections not so you can share your story, but so you can remember the conversation better.  Curiosity - listen for what you don't know so you can ask good questions.  Questions are the absolute best way to keep someone talking and learn even more.  When you listen well, you'll have fodder for specific questions - but you'll also be able to ask more probing questions: how did you figure that out? what did you learn from it?  would you do it again? would you recommend it? how could you know if that were about to happen again? how could you avoid it in the future? 

Five Levels Of Intimacy
If listening well means keeping your mouth shut and using reflective listening, what occurs from it?  Intimacy.  You won't necessarily achieve this with colleagues or neighbors (although you could), but you can easily foster this connection in close friendships and family.  If you interrupt, if you start talking and challenge any part of the exchange, you won't get to heart of the issue.  

  • Level 1: Safe Communication.  Grocery line chit-chat.  "This is great pizza."  "Thank goodness it's Friday."  "Can you believe all this rain we're having?"  
  • Level 2: Others' Opinions/Beliefs.  "Mom always said ...."  "My first boss used to say ...."  This is where you share someone else's statement, but can easily abandon it if challenged.
  • Level 3: Personal Opinions/Beliefs. We begin to offer small truths, but like Level 2, can back-peddle and say we've changed our minds if we wind up feeling too vulnerable. "Seinfeld is hilarious."  
  • Level 4: My Own Feelings/Experiences.  This is a risk and you cannot change your feelings or experiences. We are vulnerable.  If challenged, the only thing we can do is convince others these events no longer impact us.  "I felt like I wasn't good enough when my parents split up."
  • Level 5: My Own Needs/Emotions/Desires.  This is it.  There is no escape from this level.  And our greatest fear is that someone will use this information against us.  That we aren't worthy.  "I'm hurt when you don't call." 

Real Life Listening Well Examples

Mom holding a toddler at the mall.  Toddler sees a fountain far away.  Toddler reaches his hand outward toward the fountain, opens his palm and says, "Water down there," then closes his hand into a fist.  Mom says, "There's a fountain!  I see the fountain!"
Toddler repeats with the same hand motions, "Water down there."
Mom responds, "Do you want to see the fountain?"
Toddler repeats with the same hand motions, "Water down there."
Mom says, "Do you want to see the water and the fountain?"
Toddler repeats with the same hand motions, "Water down there."
Mom says, "Water down there."
Toddler puts arms down and relaxes into Mom's shoulder.  

Mom and Uncle Pat are getting ready to head home with the kids from Grandma's house who lives closeby.  There is a playground around the corner.  Ten year old son comes up to Mom and asks, "Can we go play at the playground?"  Mom replies, "We're just about to leave."
Boy says, "I want to go to the playground."
Mom says, "We really don't have time."
Boy says, "I want to go to the playground."
Mom finally says, "You want to go to the playground."*
Boy says, "Yes."
Mom says, "Can we go to the playground the next time we're at Grandma's?"**
Boy says, "Yes," and runs off.
Uncle Pat says, "What just happened?"  Mom explains reflective listening.  
*Reflective Listening employed
** Uses his words and seizes moment to get her own point across

Husband comes home from work and says, "I don't want to go on vacation this summer."  (L1) Wife is thinking about the beach vacation they always have.  Instead of asking "why," she responds with reflective listening.
"You don't want to go on vacation this summer?"
"No, I'm not sure I'll have enough vacation time," says husband. (L2)
"Oh, you're not sure about how much vacation time you'll have. Hmmmm," she replies nodding.
"Well, we're moving contracts and the positions are all up in the air," he says. (L3)
"Huh.  The positions are all up in the air because the contract is moving," nodding the whole way through.
"Yeah, I'm not sure I'll have a job come summertime."  (L4)
"Oh.  You're not sure about your job by the time summer gets here" she replies.
"I may not have a job or money for us," he says.  (L5)
Encouragement follows.

The exchange between the husband and wife could NOT take place if the wife cuts him off at any point.  It could also not take place if this were the first kind of intimate conversation they'd had.  This relationship has established intimacy where the husband feels safe going through each level.  Sometimes our spouse or someone very close to us will start with level one or two and jump emotionally to level five.  We need to fill in the blanks between 1 and 5 to uncover how they are linking thoughts and possible outcomes in order to listen well.

Read more about the five levels of intimacy.

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