Ten Secrets of Great Listeners

by Susie Michelle Cortright

Listening makes our loved ones feel worthy, appreciated, interesting, and respected. Ordinary conversations emerge on a deeper level, as do our relationships. When we listen, we also foster that skill in others by modeling positive and effective communication.

In our marriages, effective communication brings greater intimacy. Listening to our kids helps build their self-esteem and the parent-child bond. In the business world, listening saves time and money by preventing misunderstandings. And we always learn more when we listen more than when we talk.

Listening skills fuel our social, emotional and professional success, and studies prove it is a skill anyone can learn. The technique for active listening is really an extension of the Golden Rule. To know how to listen to someone else, think about how you would want to be listened to. While the ideas are largely intuitive, it might take some practice to develop (or re-develop) the skills. Here's what good listeners know - and you should, too.

1. Face the Speaker
Sit up straight or lean forward slightly to show your attentiveness through body language.

2. Maintain eye contact
To the degree that you both remain comfortable, maintain eye contact. Do not let your gaze wander to other people or other activities taking place in the room.

3. Minimize external distractions
Turn off the TV. Put down your book or magazine, and ask the speaker and other listeners to do the same.

4. Respond appropriately to show that you understand
Murmur ("uh-huh" and "um-hmm") and nod. Raise your eyebrows. Acknowledge the speaker's point by making comments such as, "Really," or "Interesting." Also include more direct prompts such as, "What did you do then?" and "What did she say?"

5. Focus solely on what the speaker is saying
Try not to think about what you are going to say next. The conversation will follow a logical flow after the speaker makes her point.

6. Minimize internal distractions
If your own thoughts keep intruding, simply let them go and purposely re-focus your attention on the speaker.

7. Keep an open mind
Wait until the speaker is finished before deciding that you disagree. Try not to make assumptions about what the speaker is thinking or what they will say next.

8. Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation
Unless she specifically asks for advice, assume she just needs to talk it out.

9. Even if the speaker is launching a complaint against you, wait until she finishes to defend yourself
By doing this, the speaker will feel satisfied that she made her point. She won't feel the need to repeat it, and you'll know the whole argument before you respond. Research shows that, on average, we can hear four times faster than we can talk, so we have the ability to sort ideas as they come in…and be ready for more.

10. Engage yourself
Ask questions for clarification, but, once again, wait until the speaker has finished. That way, you won't interrupt her train of thought. After you ask questions, paraphrase her point to make sure you understand. Start with: "So you're saying…"

As you work on developing your listening skills, you may feel a bit panicky when there is a natural pause in the conversation. What should you say next? Learn to settle into the silence and use it to better understand all points of view.

Ironically, as your listening skills improve, so will your aptitude for conversation. A friend of my husband's once complimented me on my conversational skills. I hadn't said more than four words, but I had listened to him for 25 minutes.

Susie Michelle Cortright is the author of several books for women and founder of the award-winning Momscape.com, a website designed to help busy women find balance. Visit http://www.momscape.com today and get Susie's *free* course-by-email "6 Days to Less Stress."

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