Be more empathetic with active listening

It's not your turn to speak yet

It can be frustrating, infuriating and even disappointing when others don’t listen to your views and opinions. Everybody has an idea to share yet no-one takes the time to hear yours. So how do you get others to truly comprehend your words, your thoughts and your ideas? Try active listening first.

To communicate more effectively you need to start with listening. Not only will being a deeper listener help you to engage others, it will also allow you to present ideas in ways that resonate more lucidly with your communication partners.

We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Listen with your eyes and watch with your ears

When you listen, it has to be more than just waiting for an opportunity to speak. That’s confrontation, not communication. You need to slow down and really take the time to understand what is on  your communication partner’s mind.

One way to be an active listener is to look at the other person as they speak. Take in their posturing. Do they look nervous or excited? Read their body language. Are they swaying or fidgeting? Examine facial expressions. Is there a smile or does their face look strained? There are so many things that are going on inside the person you are speaking with. If you do not take the time to consider their thoughts and feelings, you will be unaware of what they are really expressing to you.

Using your eyes helps to increase your level of empathy  and more actively involves you in the discussion. Let your eyes help you unwrap a deeper meaning to the message than just the words that come from your communication partner’s mouth.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

It's about more than just the words

To be an active listener, you need to consider both what the other person is sharing and why. Why are they saying this now? Why are they saying it in that way? Are they framing the message in a way that will make more sense to you, or are they choosing their words carefully to omit something they do not wish to reveal?

Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communicating is hearing what isn’t said.”

Maybe her words are just coming off the top of her mind. Try to rephrase as a way of ensuring you understand the meaning behind those words. Stopping your partner with an occasional do you mean or are you saying builds trust that you are actually listening to them and helps them to focus their ideas as well.

Ask questions to dig more deeply into their point of view. Once you have the gist of their idea ask more questions to understand it deeply. Get the depth and detail you need to respond in an engaging way.

Gabriella Blum, the Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Harvard Law School recently talked about the dangers of not actively listening, “By failing to listen carefully and effectively’, she said, ‘we lose important information, act on wrong assumptions, and unnecessarily damage the relationship.”

Communication is what the listener does.

Respond with empathy

Now that you have a clear understanding of your communication partner’s thoughts, frame yours in a way that will be clear and insightful for them. You know their mindset from listening deeply. So you can now present an impactful response that will resonate with them.

Choose your words and phrasing in a way that will engage. Just because you are listening in a laser-focused manner, does not mean that your communication partner is too. In fact, they probably aren’t. So framing your response is even more important.

There are so many ways to say the same thing that presenting your ideas in a way that your conversation partner easily comprehends will make your message more impactful. Stop from time to time to ask, does that make sense or do you know what I mean?

Let them reply to your idea as you build it out. Weaving their ideas into yours, or even better yours into theirs, makes the discussion more collaborative. Even if you do not see eye-to-eye, you will have a better understanding of their views and they of yours. That all starts with listening.

So listen actively. Understand what your conversation partner is feeling and saying before you respond. Then when you do, reply in a thoughtful and insightful way. As you become a better listener you will be a good communicator too.

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