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active_listening

If there is one thing to make you an effective communicator, it is active listening

This is a sequel to this post on active listening.

In active listening, the magic happens because you shift your attention from yourself to the other person.

You listen with the intention to understand. It is not an intellectual understanding only, but a deep understanding of the person as a whole. You simply make an effort to think and feel like the other person, at least with respect to the issues presented or discussed. You accept the other person by who (s)he is. By doing so, you create the space in which the person can relax and become at integrity with oneself.

There is no judgement, no criticism and no advice.

Setting-up the stage

There are two planes of operation in active listening: setting-up the stage and caring for the message. In this post we focus on how to improve the first plane.  The basic steps of setting-up the stage are:

  1. Acknowledge distractions
  2. Set-up the intention
  3. Keep eye contact
  4. Build rapport
  5. Raise curiosity and maintain interest
  6. Give full attention

Distractions

Before we can actually practice active listening, first we need to become aware of numerous distractions that are on the way. You may need to overcome some in order to create conditions that support you in active listening. Example distractions include:

  • Environment: too noisy, too dark/too bright, uncomfortable chairs, disturbing textures, …
  • Mood or health: bad mood, sleepy, hungry, emotionally aroused, feeling pain, …
  • Poor eye contact: the other person moves eyes away
  • Internal self-talk: a stream of thoughts
  • Unresistable urge to tell own message
  • The message: too boring, too long, too far fetching, …
  • Delivery of the message: accent, use of language, way of explaining,
  • Defense mechanism for e.g. criticism
  • etc

Just by becoming aware what is in our environment and how we feel, we can recognize the distractions and acknowledge them. It is not necessary that all the distractions are solved, although it helps enormously, of course.You may just simply notice things along the line “I’m a bit angry after this email. I’ll be back to it at the end of the day. … Oops, I’m hungry… These curtains are really ugly…. I hear voices on the street. ….I’ll buy something to eat and move to another table… Hmmm, I am a bit cold.  I will take a tea….” Note that this process can be very fast, in a matter of seconds.

This paying attention to distractions is important because we bring them from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind. In doing so, your conscious mind recognizes the distractions and can now focus more freely on listening without perturbations of hidden processes.

Intention

Setting up the intention for active listening is to align your subconscious and conscious mind to support each other. You simply decide to be present in the moment, every single moment. A 15-20 second (or minutes before if possible) of quieting and calming the mind is an essential practice here.

Eye contact

Eye contact is important as it practically reflects whether you are interested in the conversation or not.

Rapport

Perhaps, rapport is the mystical word here. Rapport basically means a harmonious relation, when two or more people are on the same wavelength or ‘in sync’. Some people create rapport at ease, others need more practice. The goal of rapport is to build trust. Hence it is crucial.

The good news is that you can create rapport consciously. The two main techniques are mirroring and finding similarities.

Mirroring. In the first approach you mirror the person’s outside. That is, you match breathing pattern, voice (speed and pitch) and body language (sitting, posture, gestures, face expressions). You do it in a gentle way to reflect the general pattern about the person, not every detail. For instance you may choose to speak faster or modulate the tone of your voice if the person speaks fast and with a high pitch. You may choose to lean to one side and cross the legs if this is what the person does.

All the changes you apply are in a small degree from your natural being, not the exact neither extreme copy of the other person. The reason is that you want it be as natural as possible as you need to maintain it. You can only do it consciously if this is a small step for you. Gentleness is the key here.

Why is it important to mirror the body language? The key here is that our physiology,our body language supports us in creating specific feelings. When you mirror the physiology of the other person, you can perceive some of the feelings and better understand what is going on for her or him. In addition, the person is subconsciously more able to relate to you. See the exercise below.

Finding similarities. In the second approach to building rapport, first you spend the time to find either common interests or common experiences. The common interests can be things such as golf, fashion, computer games, quilting, cooking, dogs, etc. The common experiences include specific hardships or fun experiences, living in a foreign country, studying art, learning to ride a horse, etc. The key is to find something that evokes strong emotions. They help us connect and facilitate the creation of the platform of understanding.

If you really want to learn more, observe people who are powerfully engaged in a conversation. Observe rapport in practice and take the learning points on stage.

Curiosity and interest

The next step is to arise your own curiosity. Just forget everything you knowand see the person or hear the issues as if for the first time. You are on a discovery journey. If you are curious to learn about the other person, rapport comes more naturally.

Full attention

Make a decision to give your attention fully. In doing so, your internal dialog should be killed. If this is not the case, there is a simple trick that can help you. Please keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth. If you maintain this set-up of your tongue, you will notice that internal dialog disappears. If there is however a moment you catch yourself busy with your internal dialog, acknowledge that and return to listening. Please say to the other “I’m sorry, I’ve lost my concentration. Can you repeat what you’ve just said?” The key is to be curious and interested. If you do that, your focus will naturally follow.

Finally, truly engage in listening. Start simple and make one change at a time. You will experience the magic. No doubt.

***

Exercise

If you don’t believe that your body posture and gestures induce feelings just try to get into this position:  stand up, feet close to each other, head down, look down, shoulders down and towards chest, slouch, arms down and palms pressing against each other.

What are the feelings that accompany this posture? Keep this posture and generate the feeling of true happiness. How easy is it?

***

Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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First seek to understand than to be understood

Have you ever been in a situation in which everybody was talking at the same time and hardly anybody listened?

Chances are that you experienced this more than once.

I did. Multiple times.

In the past, I used to join the game. I was actively competing for a time slot in which I could speak loud and clear so that my massage would be heard. With little effect and a huge frustration, I must say. Hardly ever was I able to bring my message through. Mainly because I was not quick enough to react neither loud enough when I had my chance. I remember feeling small and stupid, surrounded by all smart loudly talking people.

Until I decided to change.

Be a listener

Nowadays, I do not bother to have my say. I simply enjoy being both a curious observer and a curious listener.

And you know, what?

I have fun. Obviously, I still welcome the moment when the bombarding of voices is over. But …. I do enjoy this chaotic competition of simultaneous multiple conversations. And I actually learn new things about myself and others. Most interestingly, many people seem to have great conversations with me. They talk. I listen. I ask questions. They answer. They love it.

Have you ever experienced talking to somebody who listened to you with understanding and undivided attention?

How did it make you feel? Accepted? Appreciated? Special?

Yes, indeed. Such a listening is a great skill to master. It is the best way to honor the other person and pay respect. It is the best way to take care. It is the best way to learn from others. It is the best way to look for win-win solutions. It is the best way to have a conversation, indeed.

How are you listening?

When you engage in conversations,

  • Are you present in the moment?
  • Do you keep an eye contact?
  • Do you focus on the other person and not on your thoughts?
  • How much attention do you pay to listening?
  • How much are you interested in what the other is saying?
  • Do you listen with the intent to understand?
  • Do you focus on the other person and not on your thoughts?

or

  • Do you interrupt before a sentence is finished?
  • Do you know what is going to be said just after a few words?
  • Do you have an answer before the question is asked?
  • Do you listen at a surface, impatient to jump in and tell your story?
  • Do you want to show off with your experience to tell about?
  • Do you want to talk, talk, talk…?

Listening stages

There are a number of listening stages. Check which stage you are usually at:

  1. Not listening. No attention.
  2. Automatic response. You are deeply in your thoughts. Your conscious mind only recognizes some keywords.
  3. Listening to own internal dialog. You have a very general idea of what is being said. You are able to repeat the last few words. Most of the story is gone.
  4. Surface listening. You listen at the surface and somewhat selectively. You are able to answer questions about certain things.
  5. Listening with understanding. You listen with full attention. You can answer simple questions and some complex questions.
  6. Active listening. You listen with full attention. You understand what is being said and the situation. You have own thoughts about the issue. You can answer questions and provide understanding.

Your goal is to be an active listener.

If you are not there yet, no problem. We are all learning and you can learn it too. You can be the change you would like to experience.

The key understanding is that in active listening the focus is on the other person, not you. Active listening is an expression of love. Hence there is no judgement.

You are there to show interest.
You are there to ask questions.
You are there to reflect, paraphrase and clarify.
You are there to understand.
You are there to act as a mirror and show the other person who (s)he is.

When you actively listen you allow the other person simply to be in a moment, both respected and appreciated. You create a space in which the other can safely identify with his or her Self: inner images and feelings, ideas, needs, challenges and ambitions.

Start where you are.

Set the intention to listen more actively. Engage. And you will see the results.

***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.

results

Execution makes all the difference

Every year I make a decision to focus on two different skills to master. In the beginning I used to choose four to six aspects to work on. Not that I am ambitious. Not at all 😉

With time, however, I’ve found out that two skills form a perfect set. I get bored with being one-sided, while double focus introduces enough challenge and variety.

Two practical skills I focus on are the two most prominent aspects that slow me down or make my life more difficult. These are the obvious progress stoppers that I pretend not to notice. But I know them. And you know them too.

You know what stops you from making progress, don’t you?

If you master the two skills you need, you will become so much more free to act. You will experience a huge leverage in many areas of your life. Believe me, the impact is much bigger than you can imagine. Not to mention that you will boost your confidence, a priceless gain.

The challenge of phone calls

I don’t particularly like phone calls. I love face to face contacts and emails, but phone calls are not my piece of cake. As you know, they are, however, an absolute necessity in many situations. This includes doctor appointments, gathering information, canceling subscriptions, solving bureaucratic mistakes, etc.

Making a call used to be a dreadful experience for me embedded in a day of suffering. Just a single call. Until I finally admitted that I was fed up. “Time to grow” I thought. So, I decided to develop the skill of telephone conversations. And, now, I can handle them pretty well.

Working on a skill

How do I work on a skill? I do not set very specific goals of what I want to achieve. Instead, I hold a vivid imagination of whom I want to become in my improved version of self. In my mind’s eye I will observe myself exercising the skill with joy and ease. A detailed vision is important as I will be repetitively checking my progress against it during the year.

I start by defining where I stand and where I want to go. First, I describe to myself and imagine the ideal me. Next, on the positive note, I acknowledge what I have already done in the direction of this ideal. Then, by going backward from the ideal to the current, I experience in my mind’s eye the steps that should have been taken to move me so far. I basically work backwards to arrive at the now in order to the nesting of the steps. This allows me to set a clear path of development. Finally, I take the easiest or more obvious step in that direction and work by taking steps with an increasing level of difficulty.

In case of telephone conversations, I first focused on calling family and friends. Just before dialing a number I practiced a 30-sec mental quietness, something that I follow meticulously to this day. I did it to restore my positive energy and ensure my best mood. Finally, I started to call for appointments. Then I followed with re-scheduling appointments or gathering information. Later I proceeded to calls about changing contracts with various providers. Finally, I ended up with complaints and solving problems.

In all this, I made an agreement with myself to simply 1) quiet my mind, 2) think what to say 3) pick up a phone and 4) call. No delays. No procrastination. No mind chatter. Just action.

Over the year I pro-actively looked for opportunities to practice my skill. I created new opportunities. I volunteered to get information or solve problems. I deliberately said ‘yes’ to any call to be made. As a result of this exercising, I can call almost anybody in any situation. I still don’t particularly like it but I have the skill to do it well if I want to. And this is great.

Producing results

One of the skills I develop this year is the skill of producing results. (You are curious what is the other skill, aren”t you?) This means I choose to practice the Pareto rule. You know, the 20% of effort translates into the 80% of results, while the remaining 80% of effort goes into the 20% of results. I am a master of beautifying the details so I know about the latter. But this year I am to master how to produce results. This means:

  • I choose results in favor of ideas.
  • I choose to act even if I am not 100% sure.
  • I choose to deliver even if things are neither perfect nor smooth.
  • I choose to bring something to the world even if these are only half-baked ideas.
  • I want to set my mark, draw a big picture and present a skyline. The tiny details? I will work them out in time….

Every day I choose to immerse myself in thinking about results. I choose to prioritize so that my actions can lead to results. I choose to cherish my excitement about getting results. I simply want the results. And I want them desperately.

I imagine them to be. I feel them. I hear them. I smell them. I taste them. They are there, in me, impatient to get out and see the world. And I am here to make it happen. To produce results.

What about you?

This year is a year of tremendous opportunities for you. Which skills do you choose to master? They are there, begging for your attention. Let them out. Make them to be!

I imagine them to be. I feel them. I hear them. I smell them. I taste them. They are there, in me, impatient to get out and see the world. And I am here to make it happen. To start producing results.

What about you?

This year is a year of tremendous opportunities for you. Which skills do you choose to master? They are there, begging for your attention. Let them out.

Make them to be!

***

Photo credit Worlds In Focus, available under Creative Commons licence on Flickr.

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perfect_day

 

Today is a perfect day to write my first post. So, here it is :).

Coincidentally, I’m starting my blogging adventure on the 18th, which is one of my favorite numbers. I am excited to be writing about conscious living.

Stay tuned!

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Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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