Odds are you're not a very good listener...

Why would I say something so seemingly condescending? To shock you and get your attention, of course! Face it, if in fact you're not a good listener, then I need to do something special to engage you, don't I? Not to mention, it's probably true. (There I go trying to get your attention again...)

Before you get the impression that I think I'm a better listener than you are, let me be honest. As a listener, I have my good days and bad days.

The bad days are when I fall into my old habits, habits I developed because no one taught me how to listen. It's on those days that I focus mainly on my point, my perspective, and my agenda. It's on those days that I wait to talk instead of actually listening. And it's on those days that I feel discouraged because of unresolved disputes, bitter arguments, and biting comebacks.

The good days, however, are when each conversation deepens my understanding of the other person and strengthens my relationships. It's on those days that disagreements are opportunities for growth and progress, that differences are celebrated instead of feared.

It's on those good days that I follow a few simple listening guidelines which I'll now share with you.

  • Get curious! Keep your focus on the other person. That means not worrying about how you will respond, and not defending a position.
  • Never give advice to someone unless they explicitly ask for it. Most times people talk to feel understood, not to get advice. If they do ask for your advice, let go of the idea that you need to say the right thing. It's okay to tell the person you don't have the answer.
  • Don't judge or readily dismiss the person's experience or perspective. Presume (or pretend if you have to) that the person you're speaking with is incredibly wise and interesting.
  • Repeat back (or mirror) to the person what you understand they said using as many of their words as possible. Do this calmly with a sincere desire to understand, not as a passive-aggressive attack.
  • Find experiences from your own life that are similar to what the other person is talking about so that you can empathize with what they're feeling. Let them know you understand because you've had a similar experience, but don't interrupt to share the details unless the person asks.
  • Watch for non-verbal communication--posture, tightness in the voice, emotion in the face, etc.--especially when it contradicts the words that are being spoken. This will give you a more accurate understanding of the person than their words will.

Follow these guidelines and you'll quickly become a great listener. But listening is only half of communication. You are allowed to talk, too. And when you talk, you want the other person to understand your perspective, don't you? Well, the best way to do that is to first make sure that they feel that you understand theirs. You do that by listening.

©2006 Curtis G. Schmitt

Author's Bio: 

Curtis G. Schmitt, the founder of Turn On to Life!, is a Life/Habit Coach who specializes in helping busy people reclaim their lives and their bodies. For dozens of articles, book reviews, and recorded audio teleclasses, visit TurnOnToLife.com.