By Michael Angier
Our ability to communicate effectively is one of the most precious skills we can develop. Most of the time when we think of communicating well, we think of effectively expressing ourselves. This is certainly important, but listening is the single most important of all communication skills. It’s what Stephen Covey calls “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
First and foremost, we must actively listen to what someone is saying. Perhaps we were given two ears and one mouth because we were supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. Look at the person who is speaking. Listen with your whole body and your whole mind. Resist the temptation to think about your response. People will appreciate your respectful listening.
This is a great habit to develop. When the speaker is finished, pause for a few seconds before responding. This guarantees that the other person has really finished talking and there is no danger of cutting them off. By pausing, we show the speaker that we’ve listened to them and that we respect what they had to say enough to consider it before we launch into our response.
You could call this “Backtrack and Clarify.” This is where you rephrase what was said and ask if you understood correctly. You get agreement as to the communication and you make sure that what you heard was really what was meant. It takes only a moment and prevents assumptions that create misunderstandings later.
This is the one I’ve had the most trouble with. After we have clarified, we validate the opinion/feeling/expression of the other. Validation does not necessarily mean agreement. It simply means that we understand how they might feel or think about something. And if you WERE them, and had the same experience, you would feel or think like them.
This whole process might seem like it would be time consuming, but it’s really not. Even if it takes a little longer at first, you’ll find that it makes for clearer, more effective communication with less hurt feelings and more understanding. Something the world needs a lot more of.
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