Interactive Listening: The Key to Effective Communication (Part 1)

Interactive Listening: The Key to Effective Communication (Part 1)

This article is part of the series on Communication > A Spectator Or Contact Sport? 

“I Know You Believe You Understand What I Said…

But I’m not Sure You Realize What You Heard Is Not What I Meant!”   Sound Familiar?

Simple Communication is a natural human ability. Effective Communication is an art and a skill that can be learned.We can learn to communicate well with others. Active Listening is a skill that helps us to do this. This skill was developed and taught by Dr. Thomas Gordon, for the purpose of helping parents who wanted to learn to communicate more effectively with their children.

“Son, remember that when you talk you are usually repeating what you already know; But if you listen, you may learn something.” There are ways in which we can communicate in order for people at home or at work to want to willingly share with us, and there are ways in which the three ugly sisters, Miss Communication, Miss Undersatanding and Miss Trust push people away.

The key to effective communication is to learn how to actively listen to others.

Active Listening,or Interactive Listening as it is becoming more widely known can be learned and it occurs when we intentionally focus our attention on what is being said – the content of the message, as well as observing the hidden message embedded in the content – the context carrying the emotion and intent. This means that we listen for the feelings that hover between the lines as well as for the content itself. Steven Covey, a respected authority on behavior States: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Someone says to you,

“I’ve had a horrible day today!”

A good interactive listening response would be:

“You’re feeling pretty bad about what happened today, tell me, what actually happened?”

Here you respond to the content but you also name the feeling (bad) that you ‘sniffed out’ in the message. This signals to the person with the concern, that you ‘get it’, your interested in knowing more and they will feel comfortable sharing openly with you.

They might respond:

“Yeah, I put a lot of time into my quarterly report and my boss still says it needs more work.”

Another interactive listening response might be…

“You’ve worked really hard and it’s so disappointing that your boss is not yet satisfied with your hard effort, can I help?”

Again the person will want to tell you more because they feel heard because you’ve accurately reflected their feelings of disappointment. To have someone who listens to us so we can feel truly heard is not only validating, it can be healing as well.

Normally, our tendency is to: 

  • Critique, take the side of the wounded person;
  • Question or;
  • Quickly suggest a solution for the problem being discussed or;
  • Resort to blaming the person for their dilemma.

These responses, while they may have different intentions, all serve to isolate the person who is trying to share their experience with us. Given this, they will quickly shut down realizing that we are emotionally ‘off side’ and not tuned into what they need.

A golden opportunity to connect effectively and work through a challenge will be lost.

In addition to connecting with another person, active listening also helps the other person to find a solution for their concern. As we reflect feelings that we hear, the person is able to clarify their feelings as well. This sets up an atmosphere of empowerment in order for them to make good decisions and find their own solution as they continue sharing.

Note: A successful solution must always come from the person himself or herself and not be imported from an overly enthusiastic listener.

Remember, as the listener, your position is to be focused, attending solely to the other person’s concerns and not imposing your thoughts on the situation. Instead of adding your ideas, focus on becoming a clearinghouse for the other person’s emotional debris.

Even though you may have many thoughts about what is being said, you must discipline yourself to suspend them in the interest of really hearing the other person. The benefit? This allows the other person to clarify his or her own thoughts, and arrive at a solution much more quickly and effectively than before.

When trying to understand another person and their feelings, note that there are four basic feelings that we all respond with: 

  • Mad
  • Sad
  • Glad and
  • Scared

There are many variations and gradations of each of these categories but it is wise to keep things simple while learning and practicing this technique. 

So here’s the customer service training plan you should follow: 

  1. Focus solely on the other person and suspend your own reflections on the matter at hand.
  2. Listen for feelings that are either stated or implied. Body gestures and tone of voice offer important clues.
  3. After a thought has been stated, paraphrase or repeat back what you heard, reflecting the feelings (possibly hidden), and the content of the message.
  4. Encourage the other person to share more, and repeat the process.
  5. Continue doing this until the ‘steam’ goes out of the issue and the other person feels like they have been validated and heard.

By practicing active listening, we give a real gift to those we care about by not imposing our thoughts or ideas. This frees them to find their own solutions and move through those ‘sticky spots’ that can be so complicated.

Communication skills training is one way to learn this very effective method of interacting with others. Try it and you’ll find that others will want to share with you in good times and in bad. You will find getting along with others much more enjoyable!

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