Want to Be a Better Listener? (Part 2) Don’t Make it About You

Part 1 of “Want to Be a Better Listener?” was all about talking less so that you can listen more. When you stop focusing on what you’re going to say next you can truly be present to what the other person is saying.

While you want to be open to having more space and silence in your conversations, at a certain point you will probably have to say something! It’s a natural inclination is to respond with something that is about yourself. It doesn’t mean that you’re self-centered. It’s just natural to frame things in a way that relates to our own experiences. Listen to yourself next time and you might realize just how much your responses are either an example of something that happened to you, or your opinion of what the other person just said. This is OK sometimes, but not if it’s always the basis of your responses. Instead, you want to respond in a way that shows the other person that you’ve not only heard, but also understood what they’ve said. When you skip this step and jump to talking about your own experiences you can leave the other person feeling devalued and misunderstood.

Here are 2 simple ways to respond that can show the other person that you’re listening to them:

Tell them what you heard. Yes, that’s right. The best way to show people that you’re listening to them is to prove it to them by telling them what you just heard. This is amazingly simple and amazingly effective. Doing this works two-fold. You’re validating the other person by showing that you were listening, and you’re also making sure that you haven’t misunderstood them. I’m always amazed at how many times I assume I know what someone means, but when I say it back to them in my own words they tell me I didn’t get it right. Some phrases you can use are:

“So what you’re telling me is…”

“So what I’m hearing you say is…”

“It sounds like…”

“The way I’m understanding this is…”

Ask questions. When you really want to understand in a deeper way you can ask the other person questions about what they’ve just said. This gives them more opportunity to open up and makes sure that you actually do understand their point of view. Resist the urge to insert your two cents and instead formulate a question. If it’s a more factual conversation you can ask the other person to clarify details about what they’ve just said. When people use vague phrases like, “you know how it is” or “it was bad” you can ask them what they mean by them (“Can you explain how it was?” “What do you mean by bad?”). You can ask questions about how they’re feeling now about what happened. When in doubt, you can usually ask “why” about nearly any part of a conversation. (“Why do you think you got so mad?” “Why do you think your boss reacted that way?”) Asking lots of questions might seem awkward at first but when it becomes a habit it will come to you easily. Most people really respond to the opportunity to open up more.

In your next conversation try keeping it focused on the other person a little longer before you jump to your own opinions or examples. Show them that you’re truly curious about what they’ve just said and that you genuinely want to learn more.

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