"Only someone who clearly knows their subject
can talk about it in clear, everyday language."
Sherry Wyatt

Listening Strategies

Sherry M. Wyatt

There are four listening behaviors that I am confident, if mastered, will put you in the top 1% of leaders, colleagues, parents, spouses, friends, HUMAN BEINGS.  Because, the truth is, very few people are good listeners.  The first strategy is

(1) You must choose to listen

I know how simple that sounds.  But the truth is that we are constantly either consciously or subconsciously making the decision whether or not to listen.  Our decisions can have long-term effects. 

If you see someone coming into your office and your experience has been that the person never really has anything important to say, you may make the choice to act as if you are listening, but be completely disengaged.  If, however, you make the conscious choice to listen - to really listen* - one or two things may happen: 

    (1) You just may hear something you should know, and more important than that.......

    (2)  The person leaves your office feeling respected and heard and is likely to model that behavior to someone else.

* Really listening involves your ears , your eyes, your heart and your mind.  Be completely in the moment.  Resist the urge to glance out your door to see who just walked by; resist the urge to multitask while someone is talking to you - even fiddling with a paperclip can make you seem impatient and disengaged.  When someone is talking with you over lunch or in a crowded room, insure that your eye contact remains fixed on the speaker - too often, we look around to see who else may be there. 

If the person catches you at a bad time, say so.  "I really want to be able to listen to what you are saying, and right now I am up against a deadline.  Can we talk this afternoon at 2?"

The second listening strategy is

 (2) Paraphrase
Repeat in your own words what you understood the speaker to say.  You will be amazed at the misunderstandings that are avoided.  You may say, "Now let me make sure I understand.  You said (or you feel)......."  The speaker may say "No, that is not at all what I meant."  Or, they may say, "Yes, that's it exactly." 

The result is that misunderstandings are avoided; and the speaker feels heard and respected. 

Strategy # 3 is

(3)  Listen with the intent to report

Imagine how effective your listening would be if you listened with the idea that you had to repeat all the details accurately at a later time? Combine this strategy with paraphrasing and you will be amazed at how many errors can be avoided and how many mis-communications will be eliminated.

Taking notes can be a valuable back-up, however, it is easy to slip into a habit of letting our note-taking replace actually listening in the first place.

And finally,

(4)  Seek first to understand, then to be understood

I believe this may be the most important listening strategy of all.  It comes from Stephen Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People .  Too often, in our effort to be heard, instead of listening - really listening - to the speaker, we are thinking of what our response will be.  Sometimes, we even develop the habit of interrupting and finishing the speaker's sentences for them, often taking the conversation in a completely different direction. 

After you have actively chosen to listen, listen to understand not only the words, but the feelings behind the words.  Seek to "feel" from the speaker's perspective, putting yourself in his or her shoes.  Consider what is not being said in addition to what is being said.  Only then can your response accurately reflect that you have completely understood.