They say we’re given one mouth and two ears because listening is more important than talking. I think that’s a fair assessment.
Active listening is a skill worth cultivating. It requires the participants in a conversation to fully focus on and comprehend what’s being said before replying. Sounds like a no-brainer, but most people struggle with it.
So how do you know you’re engaging with a great listener? Here are a few clues.
1) Reflective listening
“So what you’re saying is”
Reflective listening involves repeating back what someone has said to ensure you’ve understood it and show that you’re paying attention. It also gives people a chance to further elaborate on their feelings.
But keep in mind that if you use these conversational techniques without a genuine desire to understand, then these skills can fall flat. You may come off as insincere, or even patronizing.
But when you engage with others authentically with the intention of really listening and understanding what the message is, then you can utilize these phrases and people won’t have the urge to call BS on you.
2) “You have my full attention”
This is a simple but effective statement of interest that means exactly what it says. No hidden meaning or motives here, just an excellent prompt to open up the lines of communication, and keep them open.
Say your coworker asks if you have time to hear the latest details on a project or your partner wants to initiate a serious conversation, saying, “You have my full attention” accomplishes a couple of important things.
It lets the other party know that you’re ready to engage by activating listening mode.
It also reassures them that they have the floor and the spotlight.
3) “Do you mean…?”
Remember the old game “Telephone?” It’s a wonderful example of how a message can become diluted or distorted the further you get from the original source.
You can interpret something one way, while the person who said it may have meant something completely different.
It happens a lot.
So obviously, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the full story and understanding it correctly. The best way to do this is by clarification.
By asking for clarification you’re coaxing more details from the person you’re conversing with while also making sure you understood their words as they intended.
4) “I absolutely agree”
An agreement statement is another way you can convey interest during a discussion.
By stating agreement, you indicate that you have an opinion on the matter at hand, which is a good indication that you’re actively listening.
You can drop agreement statements in mid-sentence or after the other party has made a valid point. This lets the other person know you’re both on the same page.
5) “I disagree, but please continue”
Saying that you disagree with the speaker also shows that you’re listening. You may not agree, but you are engaged.
In some ways, challenging the other party is an even better indication that you’re all in and all ears. It shows that you’re interested in what they’re saying, but just have a different viewpoint.
Don’t forget the ‘but please continue’ part! This drives the point home that even though you may disagree with their premise you still want to hear them out.
6) “That totally sucks”
Let’s keep it real, shall we? In the immediate aftermath of upsetting news or events, you’re probably in the mood for a pity party, and that’s more than OK.
Advice, even well-meaning advice, is not what’s necessary at that point. Empathy and compassion are.
So, when someone is sharing their painful frustration with you, the kindest and most useful thing to do is to acknowledge that the situation does indeed, well, suck.
There’s no need to invalidate someone’s feelings by immediately launching into a litany of advice and suggestions, you’re pausing to provide empathy and to allow the person to vent. Sometimes that’s the biggest gift you can give someone.
7) “What I’m hearing is…”
This phrase is beyond helpful to provide clarification so the conversation doesn’t go off the rails.
But be mindful not to tell your counterpart how they feel. Carefully frame your words as your interpretation. Don’t phrase it as an assumption about their emotions.
Be careful with this one. It can come off as incredulous, sarcastic, or downright obnoxious. Of course, a lot of this depends on your tone and body language, so make sure you’re sending the message you’re intending to.
If you can pull it off, this is another technique to draw more details from the speaker.
9) “Let me make sure I’m following you”
An important component of active listening is checking in with the other party and summarizing what you’ve heard them say so far.
By repeating their words back to the other person, you’re showing that you’re paying attention and understand their message.
And if your wires got inadvertently crossed and you don’t understand their message, this is a perfect opportunity to get back on the same page.
No matter what subject you’re discussing, this technique indicates empathy and compassion, which builds trust and encourages openness.
So, if a friend is telling you about an issue with a partner where miscommunication or misunderstanding has factored in, phrases like, “It’s so maddening when people we love misinterpret our meaning” emphasize your interest and empathy.
Speaker: My car broken down and I’m losing it
You: So what I’m hearing is that your car went to jalopy heaven and you’re having a tough time emotionally?
One of the basic tenets of active listening is showing the speaker one of two things:
- That you completely grasp their message with a full understanding of their intent.
- You’ve lost your place in the program and need clarification.
Paraphrasing signals to your conversational partner that you’re engaged in the discussion Using follow-up questions like, “Did I get that right?” shows that your desire to understand their message is sincere.
11) “Tell me more”
This sentence lets the other person know that not only are you listening, but you also want more information on the topic at hand.
Like the Thunderbirds and Pink Ladies in the movie “Grease.” They wanted to hear more about Danny and Sandy under the dock and made no bones about it.
Now you have a persistent earworm. Sorry.
Everyone wants to feel heard and be understood. By paying attention to the speaker’s words, tone, and body language, we display our eagerness to listen and understand.
These skills are a boon to all of your relationships, be they personal or professional. Good communication makes the world go around.
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