Do You Need Another Reason to Listen?

I have respected Joe Zente with ZThree Performance Development http://www.zthree.com for many years now. In this article, Joe expresses more reasons why we should be better listeners http://tinyurl.com/y86wvb6h.

Most people don’t think about listening as a skill they can develop and improve upon. If taken seriously, using just a few simple tools to become a better listener will not only benefit you at work, as Joe points out, but will also improve your life at home. Think about it, when was the last time your spouse or loved one said to you, “You are a great listener”? If it has been a while since you’ve heard that (or never!), then read Joe’s article and put his suggestions into practice. You’ll be glad you did!

Listening More to be More Persuasive?

In a recently published article in Inc. magazine, author Kevin Daum wrote about 7 Things Really Persuasive People Do http://tinyurl.com/m4h2c69. Number two on the list is “They Listen … and Listen … Then Listen Some More”. What? Listen more to be more persuasive? Most people believe that those who are the most persuasive are the ones who talk the most, not listen more. One of the most valuable lessons to learn in persuasion is that it’s not about you, it’s about them! Knowing that, how will you know what’s important to them if you don’t listen to them? If the voice you are listening to is only your own, only you will be persuaded…and you don’t need that at that moment!

In the article, he addresses “…listening when in persuasion mode.” He explains what this means: “First, (people who know how to persuade) are listening to assess how receptive you are to their point of view. Second, they are listening for your specific objections, which they know they’ll have to resolve. Last, they are listening for moments of agreement so they can capitalize on consensus. Amazingly persuasive people are constantly listening to you and not themselves.  They already know what they are saying. You can’t persuade effectively if you don’t know the other side of the argument.”

               

What Kevin Daum says above is essential to being more persuasive. But think about how being a better listener can help you in all areas of communication: with family, with friends, as well as in the workplace. In a blog I posted in March, 2012, I began to uncover the basics of the “Forgotten Communication Tool” http://tinyurl.com/7rhkyax. Applying only a few of the skills I mentioned will make you a better listener. And when you become a better listener, positive things will happen in all areas of your life … including those that require your sharpened persuasive abilities.

We Don’t Listen Alone

Listening is something I have been both fascinated with and a student of. It is a skill that most people take for granted, think they are good at, and almost never take the steps to improve. This morning I was introduced to a story about Albert Einstein that is a great example of how, if we open our minds to practicing a different way of listening, a whole new world will reveal itself.

I encourage you to read through the entire story http://tinyurl.com/einsteinlistening. When you are finished, think about what in your life you could learn to appreciate further if you merely changed the way you listened to it. Ask yourself, “Who am I listening with, or am I listening alone?”

What to Say (and Not to Say) to the Bereaved

One of the most uncomfortable situations we will all come across at some time in our lives is interacting with a friend or relative who has had a friend or loved one die. The challenge that most of us face during this time of bereavement is what to say to the bereaved. I just came across a well-written article in the Huffington Post by Carole Brody Fleet: 15 Things You Should Never Say to the Bereaved http://tinyurl.com/9fwm86d. Having experienced bereavement on a personal basis, I think Carole’s advise is solid and worth reading.

She approaches the subject from a point of empathy, giving the reader not only things you should never say, but also including what the bereaved is probably thinking if you say it. Don’t worry, however. At the end of the article, she gives the reader suggestions of what to say. My favorite suggestion in this part is, “You might not be ready to talk about it today, but when you’re ready, I’m here to listen.” I have written much on the topic of listening. Being a good listener and offering a comforting heart is most welcomed in the case of comforting the bereaved.

A time when we most want to be heard is when we are hurting. So offer your heart, your ear and your love…and just listen.

Listening – Uncovering the Forgotten Communication Tool – Part II: Handling the “What Ifs” (Emotion)

The subject of communication is as vast as an ocean. I’ll try to teach the tools I’ve learned one drink at a time, so we can swallow and enjoy each one.  Let’s begin exploring the “what ifs” that inevitably come up in conversation. As we learn together the tools used to become a better listener, one of the most fearful situations that people are forced to handle is emotion.

“What if they start crying?” “What if I start to cry?” “What do I do?” In the work I do at LifeStories Alive, I have, as you can imagine, encountered tears in many forms and for many reasons. Here are some rules of thumb that I use when emotion comes up. Please realize that my comments are taken with my role at LifeStories Alive in mind, as an interviewer there to record their LifeStories…not as a parent, loving spouse, or best friend.

What if they start to cry?

 

  1. Don’t interrupt the emotion or say anything! This one is tough for me to do. My childhood upbringing taught me that it is proper to comfort a person who gets emotional. What I have found, however, in the setting of a conversation, is that if I let them get the emotion out…completely out…they will feel better when they are finished. Another benefit is that some of the most valuable pearls of wisdom and heart-felt comments have come at the end of uninterrupted emotion. Here’s an example: http://tinyurl.com/6n3cge8. What would I have missed if I interrupted that emotion?
  2. Be compassionate with your body language but never say, “I understand” (because you don’t) or “It’s okay” (because it might not be). It’s better to acknowledge the emotion, but don’t try to make it go away.
  3. Don’t invade their personal space. I’m a hugger. I want to gently touch them when the emotion happens. I have learned that invading their personal space will interrupt the emotion, and that’s the last thing I want to happen.
  4. How will I know when they are finished with the emotion? They will always let you know by making eye contact with you. Even after they make that eye contact, take a good, long pause to be sure that they are finished.

What if I start to cry?

With the work I do at LifeStories Alive, I get emotional during an interview. Here are some helpful tools I keep in mind:

  1. Take a deep breath. I try to do this as quietly as possible. I don’t want the audio of a deep breath on my part to be heard (although my editor can remove it in post-production editing).
  2. Keep a tissue or handkerchief near. The audible sound of sniffles is distracting to the speaker/interviewee.
  3. After their emotion is finished, it might be appropriate to explain why what they said touched you…but do this only after you are sure they are finished.

Emotion is a natural part of life. Handling emotion in a respectful way will help make you better listener and, thus, a better communicator.

Listening – Uncovering the Forgotten Communication Tool – Part I: The Basics

Most of us have heard the importance of communication in school, business and life, in general. Some of us have been taught some skills and tools to use in order to improve our use of communication. But very few, if any, have been taught the most important of all the communication skills: listening.

I have been fortunate to be trained in listening skills and, thankfully, am able to apply those skills in the work I do at LifeStories Alive. It is my pleasure to share some of the skills I have been taught and the lessons I have learned through practical application of those skills. Whether you are a businessperson, classroom teacher, or a parent working at improving communication with your loved ones, I hope you enjoy and put to use these valuable tools I share with you.

Let’s start with the basics. While these points may seem obvious, most of us need to be reminded of them so we can practice them more often.

Stop talking

That’s right. I believe it is impossible to intently listen if you are bumping your gums (a slang for talking). While some people argue that they can listen and talk at the same time, I have seen the disastrous consequences of messing this one up. You will see soon that in order to apply some of the skills of a good listener listed below, you must first shut up!

Listen with your whole body

When I first heard this concept, I thought I knew what it meant. With further study, and listening to this TED Talk by Evelyn Glennie, I have a much better idea. This concept includes important practices like maintaining eye contact, leaning forward, intently watching their body language, and listening without judging. To better imagine what this basic tool is all about, in the next conversation you have today, imagine you are severely hearing impaired. Then realize during that conversation how important it is to “listen” to everything that is happening, not just what is being said.

Don’t interrupt!

This is the hardest thing for many people to learn. I know how hard it was, and still is for me. Here are a couple of tools I have learned that help with this subject:

  1. The next sentence you say has to include at least one word from the last sentence they say. This will force you to not only listen, but to pause after they’re finished talking…because you don’t know if they are really finished talking.
  2. The next sentence you say has to include at least one word from the last sentence they say. This will force you to not only listen, but to pause after they’re finished talking…because you don’t know if they are really finished talking.
  3. Practice using pauses of different lengths after they are finished. This is especially important when dealing with different emotions. When sadness and tears are involved, people tend to pause longer between thoughts expressed. Let those long pauses happen before you say anything!

I hope these basics help you to become a better listener. Remember, it takes practice to improve, but improving your listening skills can make a huge difference in your life.

Teach Your Children Well

The lyrics of Graham Nash come to mind as I ask my LifeStories Alive interviewees about the valuable lessons they’d like to teach their children. I disagree with Nash’s last stanza, “Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry, So just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.” http://tinyurl.com/878l4bl. Yes, tears will sometimes flow as we ask our children (or our parents), “Why?”, but with great risk comes great reward. The answers to what we want to teach our children are so valuable, the questions should, and must, be asked. I have seen the rewards of asking…and they are priceless.

The challenge, however, is not knowing how to ask those questions…questions of lessons learned that should be passed down to future generations. My best advice is to first realize the risk of not asking the questions, and , thus, not allowing the lessons to be learned. When we think of mistakes that we’ve made because we were never taught to avoid them, we begin to realize our multi-generational responsibility. Thinking of this puts us in the frame of mind to ask those questions.

As mentioned in previous blog posts, setting the right environment, or a safe place, for stories to be shared is very important. If possible, ask the questions where you will have minimal chances of interruption. It is horrible to have someone sharing thoughts from their hearts only to have them stopped mid-stream by an interruption. Once someone is “in the zone” of sharing words of wisdom, make it easy to stay in “the zone”.

It is also essential to practice great listening skills while asking these questions. A good, long pause after you think the interviewee has finished with their thought will prevent you from missing a pearl of wisdom that usually follows a long pause of thought. Practice this in your regular, day-to-day conversation to fine-tune this skill. In every LifeStory interview I conduct, I find moments when I am glad I waited that extra second before I said something. This video clip is a perfect example http://tinyurl.com/8xhbzce . Had I interrupted his emotion by saying something, I never would have heard, “I miss my Dad”. While this might not seem like a direct lesson taught to a child, his son sure learned a lot about his father from this clip!

As to what questions to ask so great lessons can be passed along, I suggest using empathy while formulating your questions to ask. For instance, if you are formulating a question regarding parenting skills, ask yourself, “What question should someone ask me if I wanted to pass along what I think a good parent should do?” This is usually a good place to start when thinking about what to ask your interviewee. It will also aid the interviewee in feeling that you posses two of the most important attributes in conversation: sincere interest and genuine curiosity.

So, with all due respect, Graham Nash, I think the lyrics should read, “Go ahead and ask them why, if they told you, all will cry, So just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.”

 

How to Handle Emotion While Interviewing a Loved One

When considering interviewing a loved one for their LifeStories, one of the greatest fears people tell me they have is the fear found in the question, “How do I handle the emotion (especially the tears) that will come up during the interview?” I agree that it can be a tense, scary moment for the interviewer. Instead of thinking of it as a scary moment, think of it as an opportunity, and opportunities are something to look forward to. It is an opportunity because some of the most memorable moments and most valuable words of the recording have come during those emotional moments of the LifeStories I have captured.

Yesterday was a perfect example of this. I conducted an audio LifeStory (no video camera, just professional digital audio recording equipment) with an 87-year-old lady. Her husband of 65 years died just three years ago. So, as you can imagine, tears were shed when we talked about him. She worked at a movie theater at age 17 when they first dated. They had a favorite movie (in 1942) that had “their song” in it. Their song was “You Are Always in my Heart” http://tinyurl.com/3k9uea9. As I put a copy of the words in front of her and asked her to sing the song, she began crying toward the end of her beautiful singing. At the end of her emotion she said, “It’s just been so hard without him.” I could have avoided the question and subject all together, but I would have missed her sharing of how she really felt about her husband.

Here are a few hints about how to handle emotion as it comes up in an interview:

Helpful Hint #1 – Be Silent as it Happens – It is a tendency by many people to want to comfort the interviewee by saying something. Don’t! Any words you say will interrupt their emotion. Some of the most priceless words from their hearts will come at he end of their emotion. If you interrupt their emotion, you will lose and miss those heartfelt words. Here’s an example: http://tinyurl.com/4y7lk6q.

Helpful Hint #2 – Wait Until the Emotion is Finished – This is perhaps the hardest thing for most people to do. How will you know when the emotion is finished? They will show you with their body language. Remember, for you, the length of time during the emotion will seem long. For them, it’s quick. But they will make eye contact with you when they are finished. They will also give you other non-verbal signals that it’s time for the next question.

Helpful Hint #3 – Don’t Touch Them or Invade Their Personal Space – I’m a hugger and a person who likes to comfort another by touching them. In the setting of a LifeStory interview, it’s a definite “no-no” to touch them. Touching them is just as bad as saying something. It will interrupt the emotion.

Helpful Hint #4 – Don’t Stop the Recording – Many interviewees will apologize as the emotion starts and ask to stop recording the interview. Don’t do it! You will miss the priceless words or audible signs of emotion if you stop the recording. Remember that if you are using digital recording technology, it is easy to take out pieces of the emotion if you choose to later on. You cannot add back in the emotion that you missed after the fact!

Helpful Hint #5 – Keep Your Emotion Controlled – I’m not asking you not to cry (or laugh during joyous emotion). It is normal for you to cry, too. I cry during many of the Lifestories I conduct. What is important to do is to control it. Keep you sniffles and sounds from your mouth to a minimum. Any audible sound from you will be picked up by the microphone. Remember, this is their story, not yours!

Emotion is part of life. Your capturing the LifeStories of your loved ones will involve emotion. You can deal with it in a way that will enhance the value of the LifeStory. Enjoy the journey.

Want to “Get Smart”?

Want to “Get Smart”? I’m speaking at the Oct. 21, 2011 “Get Smart” conference for AWIC (Association for Women in Communications – Austin Professional Chapter) AWIC Get Smart 2011 Promotional Flier .

I am excited about the topic, “How to Be a Better Storyteller by Setting the Story Free”. I have found that the most effective communicators are the best storytellers…and the best storytellers bring out the hidden essence of the individual. During my discussion, audience members will learn helpful techniques and strategies like listening with your whole body and interviewing without interrupting.

Great news, guys…the conference is not just for women! Men are very welcome to attend the entire morning through lunch. The message I will be delivering applies as much to men as it does to women. So come along, guys. You are welcome, too!

The conference is on Friday, October 21, 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the Hilton Austin, 500 East 4th Street, Austin, TX. Registration closes October 15, so hurry and register today. See you there!


Setting Atmospheric Ground Rules

If you want to have a conversation with a person and your desire is to have them feel so comfortable that their answers to your questions are volunteered instead of being surrendered, then you must create an atmosphere that is conducive to such a conversation. While this is more challenging in a formal interview setting, it is still possible.

Your first step is to set ground rules before you start the conversation or interview. Here are some helpful hints. Let the person you are talking with know:

  1. You are just going to have a casual conversation.
  2. There are no right or wrong answers.
  3. They will not be judged in any way.
  4. If they want to change their mind or their answers mid-stream, it’s okay.
  5. They can say whatever they want to say. Everything is acceptable and welcomed.
  6. They are welcome to leave the conversation whenever they want.
  7. You will respect their time constraints or limitations in the conversation.
  8. You want them to feel comfortable in the conversation.
  9. You are looking forward to the conversation.

The more formal the setting, the harder this is to do, but if the other person realizes there’s no way to “fail”, then they will immediately feel more relaxed…and a interviewee that is relaxed is a happy interviewee.

Very few people will do this in a normal conversation, but try it anyway. You’ll see that the other person will gain respect in you because you care enough to mention these things. In addition to that, you will probably catch them off-guard because no one has ever before mentioned those things before the conversation has even started. It might seem weird to you at first, but try it anyway. You’ll be surprised with the results!