In my previous article I shared four simple ways to improve your listening skills. We discussed the importance of removing all barriers and distractions, paying close to what the person is saying and not saying, studying their body language and power of summarizing and restating. Here are four more principles that will help you to master the art of listening.Be sure to let me know which one is your favorite at the bottom of this post.
#5 Don’t Interrupt
This is really critical. If you want to become a master communicator, you’ve got to learn how to shut up and let the other person get their point out, and express what they want to say. Learn how to take turns. Sometimes, if you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with somebody who likes to talk just as much as you like to talk, or you are in an argument, one of the things you can do is give each other the mic. Find some device, find some little object you can put in your hand. It could be something as silly as a pen. It could be something as a silly as a phone. It could be something as silly as a remote control.
Then you say, “Okay. This is how we’re going to do this. Whoever has the object, it’s their turn to talk. It’s the other person’s time to listen. If you don’t have the object in your hand, it’s your time to listen. Once you get the object in your hand, it’s your time to talk.” That way, it can go back and forth when you get into situations/discussions or conflict when people aren’t listening to each other. Everybody is so busy talking, trying to get his or her point out, that there’s no listening happening. Sometimes you’ve got to find creative and exciting ways to get the listening done, and how do you do that? You do that by taking turns.
It’s really imperative that you don’t interrupt, because one of the greatest things about communication is that when communication is at its best, there’s a flow to communication, and that’s why you don’t want to interrupt it, because if you interrupt somebody’s flow, you break the cycle. You want to let people flow in what they’re saying so that you can come back and flow with whatever it is that you’ve got to say.
Now, if you’re a mentor, if you’re a coach, if you are an advisor, if you’re a counselor and someone is coming to you asking for correction, asking for coaching, asking for development, asking for you to give them some constructive criticism, then it’s okay when you’re listening to sometimes interrupt their pattern by saying, “Hold on. Let me stop you there.” The reason why you do that is because you want to get them out of a negative state. You want to get them out of a negative paradigm. You want to get them out of a negative slippery slope that they might be headed towards.
I believe it’s significant that if we’re going to be successful at becoming master listeners, we have to learn when to interrupt and when not to interrupt. If you’re in more of a personal situation, personal setting, it’s better not to interrupt. Wait for your turn to say what it is that you want to say, but if you’re in a professional situation and it’s one where you’re being asked to mentor, coach, or to develop someone, it’s okay then, when appropriate, to interject, interrupt, break a negative pattern and replace it with a positive thought that will allow the conversation to keep going.
#6 Ask Meaningful and Empowering Questions
This is so incredibly huge. I can’t tell you how important it is that when you are communicating with someone that you ask empowering questions. That’s one of the things that will help steer the conversation into a direction that produces results. Because sometimes when you’re listening, people are just dumping on you. Sometimes people are just venting. They’re just frustrated, and they just want to get it out. That’s fine and dandy, but if the goal of the conversation is to produce some type of result, some type of forward movement, some type of advancement, then you have to learn how to interject at the right time and ask empowering questions, because most times, people ask bad questions of themselves when they’re going through a situation, going through a circumstance or don’t understand something that’s going on in their life, or even in their business or their organization.
If you think back, the people that you would consider the most powerful listeners in your life probably had one thing in common: The ability to ask you a question or make a statement that somehow empowered you to look at your situation a little bit better, to look at it from a more positive perspective, to give you a little twist on the way you think about it in such a way that it empowers you to move forward and be a better person at the same time. Ask better and ask more empowering questions that allow the person to focus in a more constructive, forward-moving direction. I challenge you to ask more meaningful questions.
If you don’t understand something that a person is saying, then it’s important to ask and get clarification like this: “Hey, I just don’t understand what it is that you’re saying.” “Can you tell me that in a different way?” “Can you rephrase what you just said?” “I’m not really quite getting it the way that you’re saying ?” “Can you come at me a different way?” That’s significant. Ask questions. If you don’t understand something in a conversation, ask questions. Get clear, because clarity is power in communication.
#7 Be patient
This is significant, especially if you’re doing the kind of listening that’s involved in coaching, mentoring, or developing somebody. It’s important that your patient and that you do not give the person all the answers.
It’s significant that you let them come to some of their own conclusions, some of their own answers. Let them unearth some truths for themselves instead of you just giving them everything. Sometimes, discovery happens when we allow people to come up with their own answers, because you as a coach, as a mentor, as a presenter, as a master communicator, it’s not your job to give them all the answers. It’s your job to ask the right questions, to be there as a sounding board, as a support system, as an encouraging force to help guide them in a direction that’s going to allow them to discover their own truths.
Be patient, especially in relationships. If a person’s talking to you about their relationship, you don’t want to fly off the handle in the first two minutes and say, “Man, you’re stupid. Man, you’re an idiot. Man, you’re dumb. Man, I can’t believe you waited to …” No, no, no. That’s not being patient. Let the person evolve in their time. It’s so significant that you let people come to some of their own conclusions as it relates to becoming an effective communicator and being a great listener.
#8 Take Notes
Pull out a sheet of paper, a pen, a journal or open something up and take notes of some things that they’re saying while you’re talking to them.
This will prevent you from feeling like you have to think of a response while the person is talking. If you’re thinking of your response while they’re talking, you’re really not listening, so what you want to do is you want to say, “Okay hey, the ball is in your court. Go ahead and talk. Go ahead and communicate. I’m just going to jot down a couple of notes of some things because it helps me focus on you, what you’re saying, what your goals are and what your needs are.” Once you’re done, then I can refer back to my notes and give you some feedback and some ideas.
These are 8 simple but effective ways to become a great listener. Let’s recap:
- Remove as many barriers and distractions.
- Pay attention to what’s being said and not being said.
- Study their body language, their breathing, their eye contact, their gestures.
- Summarize and restate. Summarize what they’re saying and restate it back to them. Make sure that you’re on the same page.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Ask meaningful and empowering questions.
- Be patient. So many times we think that when we’re listening, it’s our role to solve somebody’s problem; that’s not necessarily your role in every instance. Sometimes you’re just there to listen, just there to hear, just there to get insight, and when that’s the case, then you don’t want to try to force your answers, force your solution on people, and men, we know we’re really bad at this. Women are much better at that than we are.
- Take Notes. Write down some notes of some things as long as the person doesn’t mind, and sometimes, just you notetaking, will say, “Man, this person is really, really engaged in me, enough to write down what it is that I’m saying and feeling,” and that can really mean a lot to an employee, an employer, a business colleague, a significant other, a spouse, anybody that you’re in a direct relationship with. It’s key if we want to become master communicators, that we master our ability to become effective listeners. Start today.
Ask yourself this question: How can I take these eight principles and learn to be a better listener?
Which one of these resonates with you the most?
Delatorro McNeal, II MS, CSP