What does it take to really hear someone? In a previous article I discussed 4 types of listeners-Compassionate, Too Busy to Listen, Trees for Forrest, It's Me. Each of us has a bit of all four of these types and yet we all aspire to the Compassionate Listener. Some of us think we are compassionate listeners, but are we? What does it take to hear beyond the words?

One of the biggest problems with listening is that we are constantly bombarded with stimuli that work at sabotaging our listening. Think about it. Even when you try to listen to another person, what is your mind doing? Is it chattering about what else you need to be doing? Is it judging that person? Is it judging yourself? Our busy minds distract us from that difficult job of listening. Research tells us that the average mind thinks four times faster than the average person can speak.

Here are several skills you can use to help you focus your busy mind on the job of listening:

1. Paraphrase. If you can't repeat back what the person just said, your mind is definitely winning the distracting game. Paraphrasing means saying what the other person said, but using your own words. This can happen whether you are listening to someone in person or on the telephone. Recently, a colleague was telling me about how she used one of my conflict articles to help resolve an issue in her family. She was telling me something I really needed to hear. We were on the telephone. When you attempt to listen to someone on the telephone, you face even greater challenges. I failed in that challenge. As she spoke, my computer kept beeping with new tweets from Twitter and new emails. My eyes wandered to the screen. After a moment, I realized I had no idea what the caller had said. I couldn't paraphase. Instead I did something I will tell you not to do. I used the nondescript fillers such as, "That's great," or "Yeah, I hear you." Those fillers do not show the person you are listening. Whenever you catch yourself saying something like, "I understand" or "Uh-huh," you have failed the listening test.

2. Reflect feelings. To really hear what someone is saying, you must tune into the feelings behind the words. This is very hard for the "Trees for Forrest" listener. The Trees for Forrest Listener only sees the minor details and has trouble seeing beyond those details. My suggestion to you if you're a Trees for Forrerst Listener is to pay close attention to the speaker's voice and eyes. Ask yourself what do you see and hear. If you start noticing sadness, joy, pride, fear, you have come out of the forrest and are moving toward compassionately listening.

3. Use metaphores. A metaphore paints a verbal picture. As you listen to your speaker, think about what picture comes to your mind. Is the person so overwhelmed, they can't slow down? Do they seem to be on a treadmill? Is the person so low they can barely talk? Does the image of that person being in a dark well come to mind? What mental pictures flash before you? Focusing on metaphores will keep you tuned into your speaker. When you share the metaphore, it helps the speaker see that you really heard them.

4. Imagine yourself next to the speaker instead of pushing them or jumping in front of them. That means you don't jump in with a solution until you have really heard what the speaker is saying (This is very hard for the Too Busy to Listen listener). It also means that sometimes you never try and solve whatever might be bothering the other person. For example if your speaker is suffering from a deadly disease, how can you make that disease go away? Instead, you must try and get next to the speaker and put a virtual arm (or real arm if you are face to face) around him. Walk the journey with that person as you listen. Thank him for sharing with you and for allowing you to be part of his journey.

5. Ask Powerful Questions. In coaching we are trained to ask powerful questions. What is a powerful question? It is an open-ended question that forces the speaker to think about something a little deeper or in a different way. Powerful questions do not begin with "Have you tried. . ." That is a solution-laden question. Instead, ask "What have you tried?" "Where has that gotten you?" "What are your dreams"

What does it take to really listen? It takes energy. It takes patience. It takes time. Give the gift of hearing someone today. Give the gift of listening.

Author's Bio: 

Joan Curtis, EdD is founder of Total Communications Coaching where she specializes in helping smart, capable professionals move ahead in their careers by becoming skilled communicators.
How Well Do You Listen? Take this free assessment.
The Total Communication mission is to support, guide and encourage you with the confidence to conquer the challenges you face in dealing with conflict. With a little help you can say it---just right. Sign up at her website TotalCommunicationsCoach.com and get the free mini e-course "10 Tips for Saying It Just Right."