This article is the first in a series of 4 on communication.  The articles in this series are:

There are so many different aspects of communication, I couldn’t hope to cover them in a single article so I’m going to look at a few specific areas of communication in how it affects our lives and our ability to learn and improve.  This first one I was inspired by Jennifer at Principles for Peace with her article on listening.  I definitely agree with many of her points and I like the background she gives about why so many struggle with listening.  I have my own recommendations (definitely some similarities here) that I wanted to write for this first article on communication.

Patient Listening is Humble Listening

I’ve written a series about learning to be more humble and being humble definitely helps with listening also.  It is important to ignore yourself, forget about what you have to say and start paying attention to the other person.  Give them time to speak and don’t interrupt by adding your opinion unless your asked to.  Be patient with your responses by purposefully waiting after each of their sentences or comments before you respond.  Count to 5 slowly in your mind before you speak to ensure the other person has said everything they wanted to say.  Often, they just need a second or two to organize their thoughts and have more to say.  If you interrupt them and scar them with your own opinion, you really are not listening.  Be patient, and give them time to share everything they want to share.

Use Your Imagination and Curiosity

I like to focus my articles and activities on what can be learned.  Listening is no exception and good listening is practiced by showing interest and having some real curiosity about the person and what they are sharing.  Put yourself into their shoes and imagine what they are feeling and thinking from the words and body language they are sharing.  Think of how you are seen in response to that and use your imagination and curiosity to think on the subject with them.

Reflect and Paraphrase

Having those inquisitive thoughts will lead you to questions.  Be careful not to jump the gun and ask those questions immediately.  The first questions that usually come to mind are simple ones and they often only require yes or no answers.  Avoid asking these types of questions.  Take a moment and reflect on what has been shared and think of questions that require more elaboration on.  Asking how and why questions that require more explanation.  These will ensure you get more valuable information and will show you have more interest as you dig deeper into the conversation.

Use paraphrasing to repeat the speaker but in your own words and paraphrase what they have said with what you interpret that to mean by asking about what they means or how it makes them feel or what you thought they were saying.  This will ensure you are interpreting their message accurately and gives the speaker a chance to correct or elaborate on anything misunderstood.

Listen Entirely

Studies show that there is a lot of non-verbal communication from person to person and its estimated that of all communication, up to 75% is non-verbal.  This means that there is a lot more to listening then the words themselves.  There are many other things to other than just their words:

  • tone of voice
  • speed
  • body posture
  • eye movement
  • facial expressions
  • hand and body gestures

All these other components require that you pay full attention and listen entirely, not just with your ears to hear what they are saying, but with everything to fully understand all the signals in the communication.  To do this, you need to put your eyes on the other person, but also open your own body up to them by facing them.  You should always turn your shoulders to the person that is talking and have an open body posture towards them.  Don’t fold your legs or cross your arms or even lean back in your chair.  These are all signs of disengaging or disagreement. Face them directly, learn towards them and make eye contact.  Give them your full undivided attention.

Now, when it comes to attention, its important to remove any or at least ignore any distractions when listening as well.  If you are really going to listen, you should step away from what you are doing to pay full attention.  In the workplace this means turning your chair away from your desk or computer to face the person.  If you have a desk that you sit behind, pull your chair to the side and come around your desk.  You don’t want to have any barriers or large space between you.  If your phone rings, someone else approaches, or any other distraction is nearby, simply ignore it.  Keep your attention on the person speaking.  Ignoring a phone call or another person for moment (even if its your boss) is a powerful message that you are truly focused on listening to that person and goes a long way in credibility by building trust.

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