God gave us a 2:1 (ear:mouth) ratio in the department of listening which is a key to understanding for a good reason. The hard part is keeping that ratio in sink when there is little magin in the day and one is opinionated. Proverbs lays it out rather clear, understanding is a fine art and a wise person should be skilled and take pleasure in it. Listening to understand is especially important in the response to timely and smart questions. The better listeners also use their eyes and heart for discernment.
I personally often forget to ‘seek first to understand before being understood’. That is so crucial….as I have been told 😉 But on the other ear, I am just one conversation from actively listening.
The Japanese character symbol for Listening is revealing and can help us listen more effectively.
This symbol is so telling. Notice the five components.
1. Ears – to hear the other person’s speech. Notice the pace, tone, annunciation, and magnitude on words.
2. Mind – to think so use your brain in context. Don’t pre-judge without the full context. Curiosity before judgement. Sure, stereotypes help is but they can also hurt. Like the old saying, “Don’t judge the book by it’s cover”…but it’s not a bad start, just a foolish ending.
3. Eyes – to see the whole person. Look for eye contact (or lack there of), notice pupils expanding or contracting, eyes rotating certain direction which can signify recalling something (top left often or top right for making something up, at least for me). Pay attention to the rest of Body Language – hands, arms, torso being open / closed, near / far etc.
4. Undivided Attention – focus on the speaker. Eliminate distractions. When it’s time, transition to next matter but do so clearly and smoothly with clear intent. If you have a hard stop, let it be known.
5. Heart – to feel. You may not, will not, agree 100% of the time but you can sympathize or empathize 99%. Express your caring as if you were in their situation, there shoes. People after all, do NOT usually remember the words you say but they definitely remember how you made them feel. Look to make your interactions at least 80% positive. Make more deposits than withdrawals. If this seems impossible due to the other person, make a change.
1. Summarize – At an appropriate juncture, the end of topic repeat back your version of what was said by the other party. This confirms your understanding and helps the other know you get it and gives them an opportunity to confirm and supplement. “From what I have gathered…”
2. Show Interest – mirror the other person’s body language, pay attention. Practice the five dimensions of the Japanese word ‘Listen’ (ears, eyes, mind, heart and attention). Connect somehow,someway. Showing your interest is better than not but actually being interested is best. Value the other person.
3. Listen for Feelings – listening between the lines for a person’s intent is truly a learned art. Develop you EI (Emotional Intelligence). Study their body language. Listen with your heart.
4. Signal Encouragement – nod when you agree or understand, say affirmations like, “yes, Got it, uh ha, mm ha, etc”.
5. Observe Non-verbal Behavior – pay attention to Body Language. Learn and practice NLP. Use your eyes to better listen.
6. Focus – on the listener. Avoid distractions and limit interruptions.
7. Probe – Ask permission to ask deeper probing questions. “Permission before diagnosis is malpractice” – Dr. Tony Allesandra. Use tact and be relevant. Start broad and narrow your gentle probing.
8. Questions (Use both Open and Close Ended) – Good open ones are filled with Whys and Hows. Be careful on leading too much with close ended questions. The goal is to get the speaker to expand relevant or important areas.
9. Clarify – Repeat back what they said with a slight twist to seek clarification. It’s similar to summarizing but shorter and more direct.
10. Curious – Curiosity before judgement. Keep an open mind to learn and discover. Prevent your past stereotyping, preferences and prejudice’s from skewing your understanding.
11. Reflect – review the conversation when you have the opportunity to reflect. Check out your notes and recollection. Ponder next steps and the overall conversation.
12. Take Notes – write it down when appropriate and possible. A written note is better than the best memory.
13. Follow-up – send a Thank You note or mention the conversation later and share it’s impact. Execute upon your action items.
God you know my shortcomings here. Help me learn from Jesus and other characters in the Bible and world who are worth emulating. Remind me to be genuinely interested in others, at least equal to my own interest as your Word says.
Remember details matter. It is better say what you want than what you don’t want. At least sandwich the ‘don’t’ between the execution statement so first and last is the affirmative.