Anyone who has experienced effective listening is aware of its power. When someone listens to you well, you feel validated, heard, appreciated, understood. And all of these reactions make you feel positive about the listener.
Whole books and courses teach listening skills. Many are very good and sell millions of copies. People are studying this stuff, so why are so few good at it?
Many of my clients find it helpful to work through small steps to start gaining confidence—rather than trying to bite off the whole body of knowledge at one time. So let’s try a 3-step implementation tool to get started.
Most problems are rooted in a focus on self: I’m too wrapped up in thoughts about what I’m going to say next, how I look, whether my breath is okay, whether I look attentive, etc.
To combat this self focus, let’s focus on 3 questions instead:
- Do I hear what he’s saying?
- Do I understand what he’s saying?
- Do I care about what he’s saying?
We’ll call this the HUC list: Hear, Understand, Care.
Notice that none of the questions touch on whether I agree with him. The question of agreement actually distracts me, keeping me tuned into myself and what I want to say next. The 3 questions above will help you avoid this distraction.
To start, practice thinking of these 3 questions during any social or professional conversations you have for the next week.
After this practice period, most people have some success with HUC. But their mind still wanders while trying to listen. This is normal.
If your thoughts drift while you’re listening, try getting HUC into the conversation. For example, after listening to your friend’s viewpoint, respond with a clarifying question: “So you’re saying that it bothers you when…?” This active listening question shows that you’re hearing what she’s saying.
Or try a good understanding question: “Let’s see if I understand this right. You feel that this could have been handled without so much conflict by…”
Or an effective caring comment: “I can see how upset you are about how that was handled.”
When you practice these responses, it not only shows the speaker your interest. It also keeps your listening focused: in order to offer a HUC comment or question, you have to concentrate, so you dare not let your thoughts wander.