5 Techniques to Improve Your Listening Skills

Guess what? I am a terrible listener. I am especially bad when I am in the middle of a task or if someone is talking to me while watching my kids. You see, I am sharp enough to believe that I can “multi-task,” but if I am not fully locked on to the person, just about all of my retention goes bye-bye. 

This drives my wife bonkers and leads her not to feel valued. A real-life example of how something small thing can corrode a relationship is as follows:

A few weeks ago, while I was unloading the dishwasher, my wife explained (for the second time) how to make iced-tea the way that the kids and her like it. I half-listened and gave her all the verbal cues that I got it. At that moment, I conceptually understood what she was saying and thought I got it, but the reality is it never stuck. One week later, my wife asked me to make some iced-tea before I went to bed. I thought, “I got this!” but I had a problem: I couldn’t remember the right mix of tea to use. So I asked through text, but being late, I never received a response. As such, I took my best guess and made it incorrectly…you can imagine the delightful conversation that ensued the following day.

You may think that my example is no big deal and it is just iced-tea but is this really about tea? No, it is really about my inability to listen and make my wife feel heard and valued. Small things and big things; we, if do not listen, we are hurting the relationship. Feelings of not being valued do not care about the circumstance.

Here are a few things that we all can work on to ensure that we truly listen to the other person. When we employ these techniques, not only will we retain what they are saying, but they will also feel honored.

  1. Stop what you are doing and square up with that person. This first step is really critical. First, stopping what we are doing allows us to shift gear and focus solely on the person talking. Second, squaring up with the person (turning, so our body is facing them directly) signals that they have our full attention. Squaring up also will help our brain focus and drop the other task it was in the process of doing.
  2. Mirror what the other person is saying. This is simply repeating the last two or three words of their last sentence. Example: Wife: “Let me show you how to make the iced-tea correctly.” Me: “Iced-tea correctly?”. Mirroring, in this nature, invites the speaker to tell you more and makes them feel honored. When we verbalize and repeat what we hear, we start to lock it in our long term memory.
  3. Label ANY emotions that you pick up on. Using the example above, labeling would sound like: “Seems like you are frustrated” or “Sounds like you are agitated.” What is so great about this technique is labeling negative emotions will decrease that emotion for the other person.  Labeling positive emotions will have the opposite effect; they will increase! Additional tip: Don’t use phrases like “I think I hear” as these do not work. Placing “I” when labeling puts the focus on us, and we don’t want that.  Remember, the focus needs to be on the speaker.
  4. When, and only when, the speaker is done speaking, paraphrase what you have heard, so they know that you understand.  The goal of paraphrasing is to make sure we got everything important that they said. We will know when we have done a great job when you hear back, “That’s right.”  That’s right is confirmation that they have been heard and that we understand what they are communicating. 
  5. If needed, write down what you need to remember. This is so simple and allows us the grace to return to our task without worry that we will forget the conversation. From my original example, I now have a note on a bulletin board in our kitchen to make great iced-tea! 

Good listening is a true art form. It takes practice to do it well. I am still not the best listener, but I am sure working at it. Employing these techniques will work wonders. They will make the other person feel validated (stronger relationship) and help us meet any expectations we have agreed to.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Ellie Lord via Unsplash

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