When you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.
As I continue this week focusing on Social Skills, I think it’s a good time to revisit the importance of the communication that happens when we are listening to others. Sure, I touched this before, the importance of listening to others instead of just waiting your turn to reply, but I think we should also discuss what you communicate to the speaker as you listen. Yes, what you say to the person speaking as you listen silently.
Communications and conversations go past the simple idea of one person speaking and another listening. There is an entire underlining conversation created by the listener that most people aren’t usually aware they are projecting. As the speaker speaks, he is constantly looking for cues and validations from the listener. In a way, listening isn’t enough, but reminding the speaker that he is being listened becomes just as important. If you don’t believe me, just consider how annoying it is to speak with someone swiping around on their mobile.
When listening and paying attention, you have to consider if the speaker understands that you are listening and paying attention. This makes them feel acknowledged and validated, even when you might not agree with them. There are several ways to do this; including full physical attention, reflective listening, avoiding verbal and nonverbal barriers, and eye contact.
Full Physical Attention is when your body language reflects your interest in the speaker. In simple terms, this is about using your entire body to demonstrate your interest and show attention to what the person is saying. You must face the speaker square on, with the appropriate distance, and even lean forward to “better hear the speaker.” Your hands and legs should remain uncrossed, in what is considered an “open” stance. Moving in response to the speaker’s comments, like nodding and facial expressions, lets him know your opinion about the subject matter.
Reflective Listening is repeating back to the speaker what you understood. It validates to the speaker not only the fact that you were listening but your understanding of what was said. It allows the speaker to make clarifications and even expand on what was said before. It turns what would usually be considered an passive act into an active act.
Avoid Barriers, conscious or unconscious, that might put off the speaker. There are two types of barriers listens use; Verbal and Nonverbal barriers. Verbal Barriers are based on the tone or the content of your response. A vocal tone can give a condescending interpretation or a reaction that feels preachy, moralizing, or even shaming will shut down the conversation as a shared experience. Nonverbal Barriers are usually done unconsciously and harder to control if you’re not paying attention to your own body language. These can range from eye rolling or closing your body up (slouching or arms or legs crossed) to something as simple as lack of eye contact and fidgeting.
A conversation is a shared event where both people are communicating with each other, even when it’s only one person doing the talking. You must accept your responsibility for the message you project as a listener as the speaker for the works he uses.