Let People Know You Want to Listen

Someone said the only reason we listen is because we know we get to talk next. We are good at talking but many of us have trouble listening. Here are some techniques that tell the other person you really want to listen to what he or she has to say.

You can take several actions nonverbally to promote your willingness to listen to the other person. Face the person directly and make eye contact. You are now committed nonverbally to keep your attention on the person. Lean toward him or her and keep an open posture. Do not fold your arms or lean backward with a look of indifference. Seek to have a look of anticipation, not boredom. Practice facial expression on a friend to determine the look of anticipation. (If your close friend has a really good sense of humor!)

Ask open-ended questions instead of giving an opinion at the end of what a person says. Some good ones I have found include “How do you feel about that?” “What is your opinion on how we should handle this?” “What do you like best about…?” or “What is one thing you learned from that experience?” Sometimes a simple phrase of encouragement is all you need in order to listen. “Tell me more” is one of my favorites.

Tell the person up front that you are serious about listening. “I want to hear all about your trip.”  Or “I’ve got as much time as you need so tell me your problem.” Or to a child, “I’ve been looking forward all day to hearing about your field trip to the zoo.” Or to your spouse, “I know today was a tough day. Tell me about it.”

Of course with any of these techniques, keep obvious distractions away from you. Turn off the television, hold your calls, don’t answer that text or phone call, and wait until later to read the newspaper. Nothing shouts “I’m not really listening” like keeping your eyes glued to the television or to your phone.

Be sure to say you are listening. Then make your actions fit your words.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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