Have you ever been in the middle of an intense conversation with a close friend, when all of a sudden her phone rings and she answers it? Or her text message beep goes off so she picks up her phone to read it? (No idea where Wendy is getting her stuff here…never happens! 🙂 )
We must confess. WE have been that friend sometimes. We are trying so hard to become better conversationalists by ignoring our phones when visiting with others.
A radio station was discussing the topic of listening on the air the other day, and a suggestion given to us on the other side of the radio was to use the acronym “W.A.I.T.” when having a conversation with another person. W.A.I.T. stands for Why Am I Talking? It’s a good reminder to us to remember that actively listening is way more important than actively talking.
So how can all of us become better listeners? Below are seven suggestions to practice so that we can get better at the skill of listening. We call these the 7 Pillars of Listening:
Pay attention by making direct eye contact, and lean in toward the speaker. Try not to send a non-verbal signal depicting you are not interested in what the speaker is saying such as sitting with your arms crossed in front of you (even if it is super cold in the room and you left your parka at home). Smile at the speaker and nod occasionally to send the message “yes, I am sincerely interested in what you have to say.”
Avoid distractions by turning off cell phones, iPads, radios, or televisions. Sit close to the speaker or shut the door if needed. There are too many “squirrels” or “shiny” things to distract you in the world without adding your own devices to the story.
Paraphrase what you heard the speaker say. Quiz your understanding by repeating the information in your own words. Paraphrasing will give more depth and breadth to your comprehension of the words spoken. An example of a paraphrase may begin like “What I heard you say is…Is that correct?”
Ask questions to clarify any uncertainties you may have. Questions should be open-ended, non-judgmental, and non-threatening. You may want to ask questions such as “What did you mean when you said…?” or “How did that make you feel?”
Do not interrupt the speaker unless you need to paraphrase, ask a question or clarify what was said. Any type of interruption can be extremely frustrating to the speaker and can send the negative message that what the speaker is saying is not important to you. We have all wanted to add our two-cents worth when others are talking, however, we must restrain from jumping in with our thoughts and comments. Silence is golden!
Empathy is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “understanding of another’s situations, feelings, and motives.” Try to place yourself in the speaker’s shoes and ask yourself “what would I do in this situation?” Be aware of your own emotions and opinions and know that you may disagree with what is being said. Avoid being critical. Acknowledge what the speaker has to say and keep an open mind and an open heart!
Honor any time restraints that may exist. You may have limited time to listen and the person needing you to listen may also have limited time to speak. If you know there will be issues with time simply say, “I have a meeting in 30 minutes. What you have to say is important to me, so if we run out of time, I’d like to continue this conversation on such and such a date at such and such time.” Or, ask the speaker if there are any time restrictions he/she has that you should be aware of. This sends the positive message that you truly care.
The term listen is a verb and verbs are doing words—they demand action. Be quick to listen and slow to speak! Let’s become role models for all people we know by putting into practice the seven pillars of active listening. Too often we might hear in the classroom, “please listen” or “you need to listen more carefully” without the proper modeling and explicit instruction that is needed. Thanks for listening!
Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand. ~Sue Patton Thoele