Hello…Is Anybody There? How To Maximize Your Listening Skills

Listening skills aren’t easy to master. Who says they should be? Truckloads of tools exist to maximize your listening skills.

Maximum listening skills-hearing beyond words to understand the unspoken feelings and purposes that exist beneath them-protect and nourish successful relationships. You, too, can become an excellent listener with practice and patience.

Here’s how to get the most out of your listening skills at work or at home:

1. Be the first one to use positive talk tools.
Never be phony. Let others know often what their unique value is to you. Strong people use kind words freely, while weak people hoard them away for a rainy day. Likewise, be open and honest about your key contributions or unique talents. Are you committed to learning new talk tools that help you get along with almost anyone?

2. Ask open-ended questions.
Freely give information and request information by asking open-ended inquiries. “How…What…When…Where…How much…Why?” questions seek to gather facts rather than shove a biased opinion down a closed throat. Make your goal to get to know what everyone around you really thinks. Are you willing to be surprised how much key data isn’t shared because…”No one has ever asked me before?”

3. Keep your mind open.
Being a know-it-all will turn people off cold. Avoid being narrow-minded by simply saying: “That’s so narrow of me because there are many right ways to solve this.” Go easy on transactions that drip with blame and shame, such as “Why didn’t you…?” “You should have done…!” “Didn’t I tell you to….?” Listening is the exact opposite of blaming. When you are quick to judge people as wrong or bad, then you will be quick to dismiss their experience-earned wisdom. Will you stop trying to change people and start listening to them instead?

4. Repeat what you think you heard.
We all filter and distort communications. During a tense moment, instead of debating or pushing your point harder, try saying: “I think I heard you say…. Am I correct?” Since 83% of communication is “skull talk” or internal discussions you have with yourself, people really aren’t listening to you as much as you might think. Summarizing comments make a distracted person stop and think…and then mentally search for an answer to your directive questions. Are you so caught up in your inner world, or are you trying too hard to fix people, that you don’t really hear the message?

5. Use the stop-and-check technique.
Be like a referee and call a “time-out” when you think your co-communicator hasn’t correctly heard what you’ve conveyed. Firmly remind yourself that you are 50% co-responsible for creating positive outcomes when talking with someone else. Every communicator appreciates stop signs on the fast-moving talk road. Ask in a neutral tone, “Could you tell me what you just heard me say?” Only continue talking when the correct meaning of your message is accurately repeated back to you. How can you solve problems if you don’t understand them first and foremost?

6. Stay in eyeball-to-eyeball contact.
Communicators who are stinging from hurt often make a costly and deadly mistake-they forget to look each other straight in the eye-thereby missing important non-verbal cues. Hurt, anger, fear and sadness come out subconsciously in small telltale gestures. For example, a speaker may be sounding tough and confident, but be feeling scared and vulnerable, while looking around the room and tapping fingers nervously. Can you take a deep breath and listen to what is being said instead of what you think you might be hearing?

7. Refrain from making assumptions about intentions.
“You never make time to talk to me…” “You don’t care what I think or feel…” “You act like I’m unimportant and come last on your list…” “You always blame me for everything…” “Why don’t you just try to understand me?” are assumptions about intentions that are many times tragically untrue. You may be creating a disastrous self-fulfilling prophecy when you act on erroneous assumptions. Are you so intent on being right that you give up being cared for?

8. Always make your goal to understand others better.
When you are feeling frustrated by “Yes, but…” rejection games, remind yourself that your ultimate goal is to better understand how the speaker thinks and feels about an issue that is causing misunderstanding. Your primary mission is not to change people but to understand them better so you can better manage your relationships and your life. Are you willing to re-center your talks by asking yourself: “What direct question can I ask to understand this issue better without getting too emotional?”

9. Remember insensitivity covers up hurt.
No, don’t let a talk antagonist run over you like a speeding train, but do remember that defensiveness is the result of a large ego trying to stay in control of an impossible situation. Refuse to use knee-jerk, anger-ridden paybacks that cause more turmoil. Are your feelings too easily hurt or not hurt easily enough? Are you wise to adopt the strengths of the communicator style that you judge as being dumb and bad?

10. Drop rocks of resentment somewhere safe.
Accumulated resentments sink even the sturdiest relationships and make them go under. True forgiveness means being open to change and freely changing what is causing the difficulties. Wisdom means continuing to learn and grow when everything is going well. Have you found fast ways to let go of angry feelings instead of chronically talking behind backs?

Listening with an open attitude–one without haughty condemnation or blame–is a gift that few of us unwrap and enjoy. Make a commitment to achieving high self-esteem today by using good listening skills that encourage everyone to enjoy peak performance.

Dr. Dennis O’Grady is a communications psychologist from Dayton, Ohio, and the author of TALK TO ME: Communication moves to get along with anyone
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