When we think of the word communication, and what it means to communicate, we usually think about speaking and expressing our thoughts, opinions and feelings. Most of the time we totally forget about listening in the communication equation, but we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason! If you want to be an excellent communicator, in many situations you should be speaking half as often as you are listening. These 5 skills will help you to become a compassionate and attentive listener who others want to be open and honest with.
1. Ask what’s wrong and really listen. Let the speaker vent their fears, frustrations and other important feelings. Show the person that they have your full attention through eye contact and focused body language. Resist the urge to give advice or jump into problem solving mode. Sometimes all the speaker needs is to vent, be heard and witnessed. We’ve all been in situations where we want to talk about our bad day, or family problems, and the listener is distracted or ends up talking the whole time, and we haven’t had a chance to say what’s on our mind. This will leave us feeling frustrated and unheard. Become a better listener, and you will be amazed by how your relationships improve.
2. Reframe what you hear. Summarize and repeat back your understanding of what they are saying so the speaker knows you are hearing them, and focus on the emotions they might be feeling. For example, if your friend is talking about family problems, you might find yourself saying; “It looks like things are getting pretty hostile. You sound like you’re feeling hurt” The speaker will understand that you are hearing them and empathizing with their situation. What a great feeling.
3. Ask about feelings. Ask the speaker to expand on what they’re feeling. Asking about their feelings provides an emotional release, and might be more helpful than just focusing on the facts of the situation. Many of us are accustomed to sticking to the facts of the story, without getting into the underlying problem, which is how we are feeling about the situation. As a whole our society has become shut down emotionally, and people miss out on the huge benefit of identifying feelings and expressing them. Ask your friends and family about their feelings, and they will gain insight into themselves, and gradually feel comfortable getting vulnerable with you.
4. Keep the focus on them. Rather than delving into a related story of your own, keep the focus on them until they feel better. We’ve all been there; you ask a friend to go for coffee so you can discuss something that is bothering you. As soon as you disclose the problem, you friend starts talking about a similar struggle that they are facing, and the conversation never comes back to your problem. This is a very common communication issue that leaves the speaker feeling unimportant and frustrated. You can reference something that happened to you if you bring the focus back to the speaker quickly. They will appreciate the focused attention, and this will help them feel genuinely cared for and understood.
5. Trust the process. It might feel a little foreign/ scary to listen to feelings before diving into solutions, and hearing someone you care about discussing upset feelings might even make you feel helpless. However, offering a supportive ear and sitting with someone in an uncomfortable place is the most helpful thing you can do. Once those feelings have been expressed and cleared out, the solutions can start coming.
6. Don’t give advice. It’s tempting to want to immediately give advice and “fix” someone’s problem. Unless it’s specifically asked for, don’t. While you are trying to help, what might work for you may not work for others. Unless someone directly asks for your advice, they probably just want to feel heard and understood, and can find their own solutions.
Developing these skills will benefit relationships within family, friendships and on the job. Go ahead and practice some of these skills today in life’s learning laboratory and see how your conversations get better.