I said I'd eventually blog on being a good listener, so now's a good time to start. Theoretically, following these lessons and learning to be a good listener will make you a better person and give you lots of insight into people in general.
To become fully effective, you have to want and be open to change. Good listening requires an open mind. As a listener, it's your job to listen to their stuff. You can't be judgmental. You don't have to agree with what's being said, but understand them. Nobody will believe they're wrong, so whatever someone thinks, feels, says is true to them.
First, you have a metaphorical toolbox. All your techniques are in it for you to pull out and utilize during conversation. The first step is to empty that toolbox so you can start putting in the right tools. The things we're taking out are asking 'why' questions and offering solutions.
You're most likely thinking, "Why can't I ask why?". Why is counterproductive to communication. It implies doubt, it makes people defensive and mainly, you can't expect to understand or accept someone else's reasoning. Think of a problem you have, imagine telling someone you're problem and getting hit with a "Why did you do that?" or "Why does that bother you?". It won't make you feel understood.
Secondly, you can't offer solutions. People's problems are their own to solve. Stuff going on in their lives is their stuff. And so, you could not fix it if you wanted. People need to be able to come up with solutions for themselves. You're just there to listen and help them become aware of their thoughts, so that they can make the right decision.
So, now you should pay attention to those two things while you have a conversation. Don't ask why (this includes "how come", "what for" and other hidden whys) and don't offer solutions. Pay attention to yourself as someone talks to you and watch for your tendancies. Make an effort to stop asking why and offering solutions. Once you get this down, you'll be read to start filling your toolbox with the right stuff to use.
Here are some other things you should try to do:
- Maintain Eye Contact - You want to stay focused on them. Don't stare them down, but looking off in the distance, or at your watch, implies you're not paying attention.
- Provide Feedback - Let them know you're listening, receiving, understanding. You can do this by nodding from time to time, or even saying, "Mmm..hmm."
- Relaxed-Attentive Posture - You want to look relaxed, but attentive. Don't fold your arms over and stare them down, but don't slouch on the couch with your feet up on the coffee table either. Practice what feels right to you, and see how you look in a mirror. The key is to try to find a nice middle ground.
- Manage Appropriate Silence - Silence is okay. You're listening, it's not your job to fill in silence. If the conversation stops for a while, nod or say, "Mmm..hmm" to let them know you're taking in their stuff. People tend to find silence awkward and will fill it. If you let the silence happen, you'll make them fill it with something, and it'll likely be somewhat impulsive, and more honest of how they feel.
- Stay on Topic - You're listening to their stuff, so keep with their stuff. If they try to put things on you with a question like, "What would you do if you were me?" or "Has this ever happened to you?" try to get it back to their stuff. Say something like, "You're not me. You have to find what works for you."
So, that's it for Lesson #1. It'll be hard at first to change. People will notice, and you'll want to continue your old ways, especially for those close to you. Make an effort not to ask why and offer solutions, and keep in mind the active listening tips. If you have any comments or questions, post them here (you don't have to be signed in to Blogger to post either). Incorporate this lesson into your life and tune in next time for Lesson #2.
Don't forget the Photo Caption Contest! We need more captions, there's a few good ones already. A winner will be announced soon and a new picture will be posted. The rule is, if you read this, you have to come up with something to submit for it. (If you have trouble commenting, send me a message.)