I will admit, my listening style tends to be an interrupter. My natural tendency is to think about what I’m going to say instead of actively listening to the person talking to me. I’m a fixer. I like to think of ideas to help whoever is talking to me. But that’s likely not what they are talking to me for. Most of us just want someone to listen to us, to show empathy and that they care. When I consciously make an effort to listen better with these steps, the conversation goes smoother. I feel the burden of trying to solve their problems lifted, and the person I’m talking to feels cared about.
1. Be a compassionate listener. There’s five levels of listening. What kind of listener are you?
- Level 5 (worst): What you hear doesn’t register. You don’t really hear it.
- Level 4: You ignore what you are hearing. In one ear and out the other.
- Level 3: Casual Listening–you are trying to listen but are busy and distracted doing something else at the same time. This is probably the most common way we listen.
- Level 2: Active Listening–You listen without distraction and give responses and feedback when requested.
- Level 1: Compassionate Listening–This is the hardest level to attain. It takes energy and focus. You start to see things how that person sees it and feel how they feel. You put down your own agenda and get out of “fix-it” mode.
2. Be a Reflective & Active Listener. After you have truly listened without distraction so you know what they said, summarize what they have told you in your own words. “It sounds like you are saying that you are frustrated because I didn’t call you to tell you I was running late. I can see how that would upset you. I’m sorry.” If it’s a potential argument, try to stay calm and not get sucked into the heightened emotions.
Ideas for reflective listening statements:
• It sounds like you are saying…
• Let me see if I’m hearing you correctly…
• Is this another way to say what you’re saying?
3. Seek to Understand. Stephen M.R. Covey said, “Generally, as long as a person is communicating with high emotion, he or she does not yet feel understood.” (The Speed of Trust). Compassionate listening will lead to understanding. Remember that just because you are trying to understand does not mean you have to agree. Try not to personalize their emotions, just listen and seek to understand without over-analyzing what they are saying or trying to be a mind reader or jump to conclusions before they are finished.
4. Don’t give unsolicited advice. It will always be seen as criticism. Most people just want someone to listen to them and show empathy. They will usually come to the answer of what to do on their own and prefer it that way. If they ask for help, offer to “fix it together”. Offer ideas and brainstorm together, but let the final say and decision on what to do be theirs. Try to help them label the emotions they are feeling. Sometimes we bury how we really feel because we are worried what others will think. Anger may not just be anger, but buried resentment or fear. “It sounds like…” statements can be helpful in bringing to light their feelings. “It sounds like you are sad.” Or “It sounds like you are anxious about…”
5. Validate their feelings. Give support and acceptance, not judgement. Acceptance doesn’t mean being ok with something they may have done that you disagree with, it just means that you accept them as a person. Show them you care about them by letting them know their feelings are normal. “I understand how it feels to be that angry with someone.” Or “Of course you feel anxious. Speaking in front of people is hard.”