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 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?”
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.
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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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).
- Keep a tissue or handkerchief near. The audible sound of sniffles is distracting to the speaker/interviewee.
- 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.
I was recently introduced to a gentleman and his wife at a popular lunch place. As we sat together, he began launching into very expressive and animated stories about his political career (he is a former State of Texas Speaker of the House). I noticed as he was talking that I was smiling as I was listening.
In the classes I have taught covering listening skills, I usually emphasize paying very close attention to the other person (body language, tone of voice, etc.). Only as I was listening to this gentleman did I remind myself that it’s just as important to pay attention to YOUR OWN expressions and body language while listening as it is to THEIRS! As I smiled, he saw this and continued to share his story with joy and excitement.
Try this as you are listening to the next person you encounter. See if it doesn’t make a difference for you as it did for me. 🙂