Listening and the Forgotten Art of Communication: 6 Steps to Getting Heard

How often are we focused so much on getting our ideas and needs heard that we forget to listen? Think of a time when the person you were talking to really wasn't hearing you. Now think harder about that time and see if you can recall listening to that person. The first step in getting yourself heard is to LISTEN.  Sounds paradoxical, I know, but in listening to another human being they begin to open up and want to listen to you. This isn't something we learn in school but it is a skill we can cultivate in ourselves.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood
— Prayer of St Francis

Step 1 - Pay attention! This means putting down your phone or turning off the TV and really getting curious about what the other person has to say. Look interested. Make eye contact. Notice their voice tone and facial expressions. Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes and hear their viewpoint even if you don't agree with it.

Step 2 - Reflect back what the other person is saying. Sometimes just the act of repeating the person will let them know that you are listening. It also gives you both a chance to make sure that the right information is being said and heard since the other person has a chance to say "no, that's not exactly what I meant to say". This doesn't mean to be a parrot - that can be annoying. Just check in periodically and make sure you understand.

Step 3 - "Read minds". OK, so you can't really read a person's mind, but you can make an educated guess. Be sensitive to what is not being said. Pay attention to the non-verbal signals that the person is giving you and what you already know about them. Make an educated guess about what's going on for them. 

Step 4 - Understand. Look for how what the other person is doing/thinking/saying makes sense in light of their experiences. For example, if your child is crying about having her pencil broken at school, think about what that pencil meant to her and how she might feel violated. Might not be a big deal to you but it is to her. Show you understand by your words and actions.

Step 5 - Acknowledge the valid. This one can be hard and really requires us to stretch ourselves if we disagree with the other person. Don't lie or say something you don't believe, but look for a tiny bit of what the person is saying that makes sense to you. For example maybe someone is telling you that their boss is a jerk for not giving them a raise and you believe that they don't deserve it, so you agree with the boss. You can still acknowledge that the person feels angry and disappointed. Or, as in my case, I disagree with my mother's politics (sorry Mom!) but I can still validate that she is passionate about her beliefs.

Step 6 - Show equality. Be yourself! Don't try to show up the other person or convince them that you're right, or that you're smarter than they are. Treat them as a valued equal. You might learn something new.

These steps are all about listening to another person, so you might be wondering how that helps you get your point across? It's human nature to want to be understood and heard. If you take the time to listen, I mean really listen to what another person is saying they will be more willing to take the time to really listen to you. It will improve your relationships and the connection you feel with others.

So how can you bring these skills into your life? The answer is simple - practice! Print out these steps and take them with you and try it out on a trusted friend or family member. Ask them to talk to you and while they are talking make a point of getting distracted by your phone, things around you, or your own thoughts. Then ask them how the experience was for them. Now ask them to talk to you again and instead of being distracted practice deep listening, reading body language, putting yourself into their position, and validating what they are feeling. Then ask them how that experience was for them.  I guarantee that they will feel closer to you the second time around. Then you get to take your turn and talk with them paying undivided attention to you. How does that feel to you? Do you feel heard? Do you feel better? Don't take my word for it, try it and see.

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