Sunday, March 11, 2012

Listening (2 of 5)

As we start off our second article about the most important communication skill (listening), I want to share how the articles on this topic are going to tie together.

1)      Last time, we gave an overview of the role of listening in persuasion and influence (what some might call the “end game” of communication) and then gave more detailed information on the BASICS of listening.

2)      This time we will talk about the perspective a good listener takes in a conversation in order to send the right message and maximize natural collaboration in a discussion occurring in which the relationships are good and both parties want to collaborate. In other words, under the best circumstances.

3)      The next article will give information to help you determine if the flow of conversation with the other party is open and progressing productively or not. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your counterpart is having difficulty in sharing their best and truest thoughts with you, or if you just THINK they are. We will talk about how to improve the circumstances and quality of collaboration “on the fly”

4)      The next article will be about what to do when the circumstances aren’t the best. For instance, when your listening skills tell you that the other party is not being forthcoming (getting answers is like pulling teeth) or that there are forces at work (ego, competition, or politics) that keep “natural” collaboration from being the first concern.

 Because you are now concentrating on developing the listening skill we talked about last time, let’s start by talking about the “good listener’s perspective”. This is the perspective we take because we want to create a feeling of safety in the conversation. If people don’t feel safe, they won’t share thoughts that may contradict yours or those of people they feel may react badly because they don’t want to expose themselves to potential backlash – they want to avoid repercussions.  So creating a safe conversation environment is your first objective. And remember – it is YOU they have to trust, and so YOU must alter YOUR perspective in order to authentically create the environment, It is NOT up to them.

 When I say a “safe” environment, I mean one that reduces defensiveness to a minimum. Remember that the first thing you are doing is listening. That means you are paying attention to them and NOT thinking about other things, not even about the way YOU feel about the topic. YOU are simply trying to understand their perspective. You are NOT trying to change it, or come to agree with it. you only want to understand how they think and feel and their reasoning. Here are some tips:

·         Be empathetic (don’t condemn, argue, or patronize)

·         Be involved and engaged (don’t be intense)

·         Allow your body language to facilitate the free flow of information (don’t over react physically)

·         Disclose information about yourself, a little at a time (not too much, and not too soon – as long as you are the listener, you are not the star)

·         Respect the context of the speaker’s remarks

·         Examine the speaker’s  body language for demeanor as well as listening to words

·         Try not to think about what you're going to say next. Simply focus on what the other person says

·         Paraphrasing what you heard demonstrates to the other person that you're listening

·         Asking questions demonstrates curiosity. Asking GOOD questions allows your counterpart to go deeper into what they care about and demonstrates a rare interest that deepens relationships.

 Each individual I listen to has a slightly different quality and capability. I try to match their use of the language (vocabulary, grammar) as best I can. I would try not to show-off or confuse a counterpart with words they don’t know or a style of delivery that would likely make them feel inferior. It makes them feel defensive, and shuts down the communication. The reason I know this is because I have been shut down in this same way, and did it many times myself before I learned that the purpose of communication is to KEEP the good information flowing, not to stop it.

There are some natural obstacles that cause difficulty in listening that I address in the table below. In future lessons, we will cover more items like this and I will show you not only what YOU should do ( as I do in the last to columns in the table) but I will show you how to lead your counterpart into exhibiting behavior that facilitates better communication as well.

The next article will give information to help you determine if the flow of conversation with the other party is open and progressing productively or not.
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