Be more empathetic with active listening

Active listening requires listening deeply

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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Why You Need Art

The Next Time Your Triggered, Try This…

The Power of Silence

Why Do You Need Art

Van Gough Irises

The other night I caught Gillian Anderson in A StreetCar Named Desire from London’s National Theater on YouTube. During the COVID 19 lockdown they, and other theater companies across the globe, are presenting different plays from their archives every week. Watching Ms. Anderson’s performance as Blanche Dubois made me really appreciate the artistry that goes into live performances. It was a pleasant reminder that art is a deep level of communication that we rarely get in the world around us.

Watching Blanche transform from a woman down on her luck to one experiencing a psychotic breakdown, I could feel the depth of emotion that Ms. Anderson poured into that performance. I could not only see but also empathetically sense the triggers that sent Blanche past the point of no return, and the role that each of the pivotal characters had on her descent.

The performance brought to the forefront how we, knowingly or unknowingly, affect the lives of others. This play wasn’t just about a house disrupted by neurosis. It was also a reminder of the role we all play in the lives of others. Art helps us to consider such questions and get in touch with our emotions.

Rather than looking for distraction and a world far from reality, art gives you the opportunity to explore your own feelings and build your skills of understanding the thoughts and feelings of others. It gives you access to experiencing the pure emotions the artist is sharing. Surgi Rachmaninoff said that music is communication from the heart of the musician to the listener. No need for language to dilute the emotion. 

No musician epitomizes this more than Pat Metheny. Watching and listening to him play guitar, you feel he is reaching out and sending you joy with every note and chord he plays. He and his band give you a bath of exhilaration as you experience the emotion that goes into every bar of a tune, not just from him but every member of the band as well. Like in this clip of As It Is.

Paintings and sculptures can affect you in a similar way, if you take the time to let them infuse you. Consider your mental and emotional impressions. Art may even give you a physical response such as shying away from or drawing you into it. Let the artwork wash over you. Think about what the artist and their art is saying to you. Consider their state of mind as they worked on their creations for days, weeks, months and sometimes even years. What compelled them to share this image from the thousands they had in their mind? 

On a visit to the Getty Museum in California, I saw a woman looking at Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises with opera glasses. At first this seemed odd. That is one manic art lover, I thought to myself. Later, as I considered the scene, it dawned on me that she wanted to ingest every stroke and fine detail in Van Gogh’s work.

Maybe she was imagining him putting oil to canvas, in the field and then in his studio as he recalled the image from his mind. Perhaps she wanted to connect with the emotion he was feeling as he intricately detailed each leaf and petal. Perhaps she wanted to imprint those strokes and the finished painting in her mind as a living experience. Like with theater and music, the painting was delivering a message to her directly, from the artist’s heart to her own. This deep appreciation made her one with the painter as she interacted with his masterpiece.

Van Gough Irises

Rather than just considering art a pleasant diversion from your daily life, take the opportunity to interact with it deeply and intimately. Experiencing these works on an emotional level and considering what the artist’s heart is communicating to you will leave you with a new perspective and a lasting impression that you can relive over and over again. 

This article originally appeared on Medium

To Strengthen A Relationship Give First

You will get more if first you learn to give

The power of reciprocity

It’s all about putting others first

People today are concerned about what is in it for me. How they can get the most out of any situation, focused on winning regardless of the circumstances. However, these victories will always be short term unless they create value for others in the process. To do this, you need to use the law of reciprocity. Quite simply, if you do something nice for me I’ll do something nice for you. I feel obligated to reciprocate. Says motivational speaker Brian Tracy, There are enormous benefits to using reciprocity as a means of cultivating good relationships. Three ways to start the cycle are; give first to establish goodwill, give to build credibility and receive graciously to create reciprocation.
Just last week I took my college-aged son to lunch. We sat and talked, enjoyed our meal and I picked up the tab. Later, as we were going our separate ways he gave me a hug and said, “Thanks, dad.” A hug? In public? That was worth more than ten meals! Needless to say, we both won that day.

If you would take, you must first give, this is the beginning of intelligence.

Lao Tzu

Establishing Good Will
Consciously giving first demonstrates that you have the other person’s best interest at heart. That you have the ability and foresight to empathize with their situation and needs and are not simply focused on what is in it for you. It also shows that you want to engage, collaborate and share, rather than control or dominate.

Look for opportunities to assist those around you. What value can you give that will make their day a little brighter, their work a little better or less ponderous? Helping a colleague to meet a tight deadline or sharing your expertise to help a teammate enhance their skill set will and deepen the relationship and pay dividends when you have a need for support down the road.
All relationships are built on give and take; it is the lifeblood of good ones, irrespective of if the relationship is with a partner, family member, friend or business colleague. So, if you want to succeed, it is good to make an investment in the other person by giving first.

Reciprocity helps us balance the need for self-determination and creative individuality with mutual hope and, therefore, what might be described as ‘solidarity.’

David Blunkett

Building Credibility
By giving first, you establish that you are serious about finding answers that work well for both parties, not just now but also into the future. This allows you to increase the value of the final solution, your contribution, and the relationship as a whole. In the examples above, the offers served as a demonstration and reminder, “I’m here for you.” That gracious act has a long tail effect that grows over time.
Each person has a different valuation of the offering, and in many cases, that significance is higher to the one who receives it. But make no mistake; as the provider, you must acknowledge the value for both you and your compadre. As such, consider what value your counterpart places on your assistance by asking thoughtful questions and suggesting insightful solutions that move towards an amicable resolution. Because you gave first, you will find reasonable people more open and friendly towards your request, just as you have been to theirs.
With my partner for example, when she has had a bad day or is just feeling blue something as simple as putting on her favorite music (especially if it’s at the bottom of my playlist) demonstrates that I value her as a person and how she feels is essential to me. This also has her thinking and feeling that I am empathetic towards her needs. You can see how this benevolence builds stronger relationships.

We are rich only through what we give, and poor only through what we refuse.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Receiving Reciprocation
One thing you may forget to do, which is equally important to give is to ask for something in return. This does not need to be immediate; in fact, you can let your request sit in trust, waiting for an opportunity to be balanced with the contribution you made previously. You must give the other person know you recognize the merit of your accommodation with a phrase like, “I know you would do the same for me.” Or “You owe me one.” This back and forth builds trust in a relationship and allows both people to feel good about helping the other. Assisting a friend in with sage advice, for example, could lead to your next career opportunity. When they reach out with a job opening, they know you would be suitable for. Reciprocal favors are the lifeblood of any healthy relationship.
Your relationships are out of balance when one person yields to the wants and needs of the other repeatedly. In this weakened state, the relationship is more susceptible to one person choosing to walk away. So, if you give more than you take, look for ways that you can start to make withdraws on some of the value that you deposited earlier. Likewise, if you feel that you have taken too much in your relationships, and you have a contribution debt, it is time you started giving back.

You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.

Zig Ziglar

Through giving, you invest in your partner, family members, friends, and colleagues. You increase that value by being gracious in the way you receive concessions. This cycle allows you to continually support each other and generate feelings that the relationship has merit for both sides.