Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The benefits of active listening.

Sometimes people just need to be heard and acknowledged before they're willing to consider an alternative or to soften their current position.

It’s often easier for someone to listen to and consider another position when they know they're being listened to and their position is being taken seriously.

It helps people to spot flaws in their reasoning when they hear it played back without criticism.

It also helps identify areas of agreement so the areas of disagreement are put in perspective and are diminished rather than magnified.

Reflecting back on what we hear each other say creates a new awareness of the different levels that are going on below the surface. This helps to bring things into the open where they can be more readily resolved.

If we accurately understand the other person’s point of view, we can be more effective in helping that person see the flaws in his or her position.

If we listen attentively, we can also be more effective in discovering the flaws in our own position.

Listening Tips

Usually it’s important to paraphrase in your own words your understanding of the message you hear. Parroting back the words verbatim is annoying and doesn’t ensure an accurate understanding of the message. Depending on the purpose of the interaction and your understanding of what’s relevant, try reflecting back to the other person:

1. An account of the facts.
2. Thoughts and beliefs.
3. Feelings and emotions.
4. Wants, needs or motivation.
5. Hopes and expectations.

Don’t respond just to what is said. Look for the feelings or intent behind the words as well. The actual words used by the sender usually don't convey the core message.

Don’t follow your impulse to answer questions immediately. Sometimes when people ask questions, they really just want to express themselves and aren’t open to hearing an answer at that time.

Know when to stop using active listening. Once you accurately understand the sender’s message, it's time to respond with your own message. Don’t use active listening to hide and avoid revealing your own position.

If you’re confused and know you don’t understand, either tell the person you don’t understand and ask him/her to say it another way, or proceed using your best guess. If you’re wrong, the person will likely try to correct you.

Active listening is a very effective first response when the other person is angry, hurt or expressing difficult feelings toward you, especially in relationships that are important to you.

Use direct eye contact and careful body language to make sure the other person really sees that you're listening to them. Avoid looking at your watch or at other people or at other activities in the room. Face the speaker, lean toward them and nod your head in acknowledgment whenever it’s appropriate. Be careful about crossing your arms as this can make you appear closed or critical.

Most of all, be empathic and nonjudgmental. You can accept and respect the person and their feelings and beliefs without invalidating or giving up your own position, and without agreeing with the accuracy and validity of their point of view.

Still more tomorrow.......

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