Updated: May 20
Any effective communicator must first and foremost be a good listener.
It’s not an easy feat.
When I provide communication training to businesses, I’ll ask them what communication strategy is hardest for them to implement. Oftentimes, they’ll tell me it’s the validation – making the people they’re speaking to feel heard and understood.
For instance, they’ll point out how hard it is to listen to someone who is saying something that doesn’t match up with your feelings about the situation.
It can be really challenging to listen to someone who is complaining, especially if the thing he is complaining about is you or your business.
You don’t have to agree with the person. You can agree to disagree. If you want to maintain the relationship and move forward, though, you have to know how to listen and make the person feel heard.
And actually, when you’re able to listen with an open mind and truly make someone feel heard, the easier it is to find a path to an agreement, and the more receptive that person is going to be what you’re saying.
Demonstrating to people that you hear them builds a level of trust. People feel cared for and supported.
On the flip side, when people don’t feel heard, they are going to have a hard time moving on in the conversation or being receptive to a solution from you.
The way I see it, here are three ways to perfect this skill:
1) Listen without interruption – How do you feel when you’re talking and someone interrupts you to insert his opinion or move the conversation in a different direction?
It’s annoying and feels disrespectful, right?
You think to yourself, why can’t this person give me a minute to finish talking? Why is his voice more important?
You might even think the person was never really interested in hearing your opinion in the first place.
It’s especially annoying when someone interrupts you with the words but, however, or unfortunately.
Reality check: If you’re the one doing the interrupting, the person you’re speaking to is going to feel the same way – annoyed and frustrated.
Interrupting someone who is talking is one of the easiest things to avoid, yet so many of us do it.
I think it goes back to what my communication trainees were saying. It’s hard to listen to someone who is saying something that you don’t agree with.
It’s like you want to jump in there and get the person to start seeing things your way.
Butting in, though, isn’t going to help your case. The person is going to think you’re rude and selfish and there’s a good chance the conversation is going to get stuck on the fact that you interrupted this person instead of moving forward toward a solution.
2) Listen to be informed – OK, so you’re not going to interrupt someone who is speaking. Now, make sure you’re actively listening to that person.
Have you ever caught yourself not paying attention to someone who was introducing himself to you because you were too busy formulating your own introduction in your head?
You know he said his name and shook your hand, but you can’t remember what his name was or much else of what he said.
You weren’t actually taking in what that person was saying. Sure, you were being polite in the sense that you weren’t interrupting him.
You weren’t listening to learn, though.
The more you listen to understand, the more you’re going to learn from people, and the easier it is going to be to find paths to agreement.
You truly learn more by hearing than talking. And when you let people talk, they’re more likely to open up to you.
Along with helping you gather new information, deeply listening helps you avoid misunderstandings.
You don’t know what you don’t know, right? If you’re not attentive toward to people, how do you really know if you’re on the same page?
You can avoid this conflict and miscommunication by staying attentive, and from time to time, the cost of misunderstanding people is very high.
Pro Tip: If you struggle with active listening, pay attention and challenge yourself to recap what people said. This will encourage you to stay engaged and take in each and every word.
3) Listen without judgement – Most of us come into conversations with our own biases and agendas. Sadly, this clouds our ability to truly hear what other people are saying and actually learn something from them.
If you enter conversations thinking you know everything already or that your “plan” is the only way forward, you’re not going to learn anything new or discover any alternative solutions.
To help you keep an open mind, challenge yourself to always be curious and discover something new in every conversation.
Another way to think about this idea of being receptive without judgement is: Have you ever told someone something because you wanted to vent and not because you wanted to hear his advice?
Sometimes it’s better to stay out of advice mode altogether and just lend people your ear.
If you find yourself wanting to provide advice, feel free to ask the person how you can best support him.
One of the best ways to make this person feel heard is to provide a validating phrase such as…
I appreciate you sharing that with me. That sounds really challenging.
If listening doesn’t require us to speak, why is it so hard?
I find a lot of it comes down to our tendencies to interrupt, become distracted, and focus on our own agendas.
To learn more about up-leveling your teams’ communication – one word at a time – book a call with me today.