Listening Skills

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Active listening

Positive encouragement To listen actively, you should help the other person to speak, using attentive body language and encouraging words. Especially when they are uncertain, supporting them with nods, ‘yeses’ and eyebrows raised in anticipation can be very effective. Sometimes encouragement is best with silent attention, given them space in which to find the word they need, quietly sitting through the pauses. If they are emotional, accept their emotional state without criticism and without saying ‘please don’t cry’ when we really mean ‘please don’t upset me’. If someone is moved to tears, one of the most powerful things you can do is to allow them to cry. Attentive listening In attentive listening you pay obvious attention to the other person so they can see that you are interested in what they have to say. The opposite of attentive listening is inattentive or casual listening, where you are not obviously paying attention to the person but you may (or may not) actually be listening carefully. Total listening Rogers and Farson (1979) describe active listening as ‘an important way to bring about changes in people.’ They recommend three activities: Listen for total meaning: Listen both for content and also for the underlying emotions. Respond to feelings: Sometimes the real message is in the emotion rather than the surface content. In such cases, you should respond to the emotional message. Note all the cues: Not all communication is verbal, so watch for the non-verbal messages. Reflecting When you reflect what you hear back to the other person, you are demonstrating that you have heard what they have said. What you reflect should match the key aspects of what the other person is communicating. You can reflect data and factual information. You can also reflect feelings. Feelings are more difficult to read but are more powerful in the bond that is created with the other person as this indicates empathy and implied concern. Summarizing Reflect back what you hear not by parroting back the same words but by paraphrasing, using your own words to rephrase what they have said. A good way of doing this is to summarize what they have said in fewer words. Testing When a person says something, even with careful understanding you may miss the point. It can help when reflecting and summarizing to add testing questions, asking whether your summary is correct. For example: So, I think what you are saying is … Is this right? This gives them control and hence makes it easier for them to accept what you say. Demonstrate respect As Rogers and Farson point out, ‘although it is most difficult to convince someone that you respect him by telling him so, you are much more likely to get this message across by really behaving that way…Listening does this most effectively’. See also Listen to the inner person

Appreciative listening

In appreciative listening, we seek certain information which will appreciate, for example that which helps meet our needs and goals. We use appreciative listening when we are listening to good music, poetry or maybe even the stirring words of a great leader.

Sympathetic listening

In sympathetic listening we care about the other person and show this concern in the way we pay close attention and express our sorrow for their ills and happiness at their joys.

Empathetic listening

When we listen empathetically, we go beyond sympathy to seek a truer understand how others are feeling. This requires excellent discrimination and close attention to the nuances of emotional signals. When we are being truly empathetic, we actually feel what they are feeling. In order to get others to expose these deep parts of themselves to us, we also need to demonstrate our empathy in our demeanor towards them, asking sensitively and in a way that encourages self-disclosure.

Therapeutic listening

In therapeutic listening, the listener has a purpose of not only empathizing with the speaker but also to use this deep connection in order to help the speaker understand, change or develop in some way. This not only happens when you go to see a therapist but also in many social situations, where friends and family seek to both diagnose problems from listening and also to help the speaker cure themselves, perhaps by some cathartic process. This also happens in work situations, where managers, HR people, trainers and coaches seek to help employees learn and develop.

Dialogic listening

The word ‘dialogue’ stems from the Greek words ‘dia’, meaning ‘through’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘words’. Thus dialogic listening mean learning through conversation and an engaged interchange of ideas and information in which we actively seek to learn more about the person and how they think. Dialogic listening is sometimes known as ‘relational listening’. Dialogue comes from the Greek words meaning ‘through words’. It stresses communication as a two-way process whereby people seek to understand not just what is said but also what they mean. Principles Dialogic listening seeks to improve upon empathetic and active listening by focusing on the actual communication and seeking of true understanding. Understanding is seen as emergent rather than created. It emerges from a two-way conversation that works to connect both people in an open partnership. The conversation does not seek to dig hard but to encircle and play with concepts, using metaphor and other expanding methods. The focus is on the here and now of what is going on between the people rather than what is going on in one person’s mind or what was or what might be. Practice To increase your use of dialogic listening there are several methods you can use. First, just talk more. Make time for conversation. Ask the other person to say more about what they are thinking. Look for clarity and detail. Offer likewise and listen to their requests for information. If you ask them to talk more, they will also become more interested in you and a comfortable balance of speaking and listening will emerge. Use metaphor. Ask ‘What is it like?’ Take the thinking into other worlds and explore how things might work out there. Then wonder how to bring the ideas found there back into the ‘real world’. Use paraphrasing and otherwise reflect back to the other person what you are hearing and seeing. Show them their selves in the mirror of you. Discuss what you perceive and what leads you to these conclusions. Explore what you discover about one another. Wonder together what is happening between you and the locus and dynamics of your shared understanding. Wander together through each others thoughts, emotions, needs and goals, preferences, beliefs and values, and so on. See also Active listening, Depth of listening

Relationship listening

Sometimes the most important factor in listening is in order to develop or sustain a relationship. This is why lovers talk for hours and attend closely to what each other has to say when the same words from someone else would seem to be rather boring. Relationship listening is also important in areas such as negotiation and sales, where it is helpful if the other person likes you and trusts you.

Bad listening habits

There are many ways to listen badly, sometimes affected by the listener and sometimes by the environment. Common habits Bad listening is common, but is seldom really intended. The way that it effectively works is that we fall into the thoughtless repeating patterns of habits. Here are some of the bad habits as suggested by several authors. It is scary how many of these may be recognized in oneself… Nichols and Stevens (1957) offer the following list as poor listening habits. Calling the subject uninteresting Criticizing the speaker &/or delivery Getting over-stimulated Listening only for facts (bottom line) Not taking notes or outlining everything Faking attention Tolerating or creating distractions Tuning out difficult material Letting emotional words block the message Wasting the time difference between speed of speech and speed of thought Robertson (1994) describes the following list as the ten most common bad listening habits. Lack of interest in the subject Focus on the person, not on the content Interrupting Focus on the detail, missing the big picture Force-fitting their ideas into your mental models Body language that signals disinterest Creating or allowing distractions Ignoring what you do not understand Letting emotions block the subject Daydreaming Barker and Watson (2000) suggest the following as irritating listening habits: Interrupting the speaker. Not looking at the speaker. Rushing the speaker and making him feel that he’s wasting the listener’s time. Showing interest in something other than the conversation. Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing her thoughts. Not responding to the speaker’s requests. Saying, "Yes, but . . .," as if the listener has made up his mind. Topping the speaker’s story with "That reminds me. . ." or "That’s nothing, let me tell you about. . ." Forgetting what was talked about previously. Asking too many questions about details. Key issues It is interesting to note the overlaps and differences in the above lists. Key underlying aspects about these include: Lack of respect for the speaker Stuck in own head; trapped by own thoughts Hearing only what is superficially said; missing the real meaning General ignorance about social politeness

Critical Listening

Critical listening is a rational process of evaluating arguments put forward by others. Subject and logic The focus of criticism may be either or both of the subject matter being discussed or the logical structure of the argument being proposed. Subject-matter Critical listening may be based on the subject-matter being talked about and assumes the listener is sufficiently expert in the subject matter to be able to form a valid opinion. Logic It may also be based on the logic and structure of the argument being proposed, which assumes the listener has a sound grasp of logic and argumentation. SIER structure ‘SIER’ critical listening breaks the process down into four repeating parts: Sensing Sensing is simply hearing the words. This is not automatic and requires careful focus and attention that excludes any distractions. Interpretation Interpretation is the process of understanding and assigning basic meaning. It is based on the mental models and schemata of the listener, many of which may be based on commonly accepted knowledge and paradigms. Evaluation Evaluation is the process of judging the argument, assessing ‘facts’ presented for real accuracy and seeking structural integrity and fallacies in the argument presented. Assignment Finally, having judged the argument, the critical listener may assign worth to it. An argument may thus be judged as strong, rational, truthful and worthy, or weak, illogical, false and unworthy. Critical listening skills Understand person and context When seeking to do critical listening, it can help to understand the person and their context. Many arguments do not stand alone and understanding why the person is saying what they are saying can help in the understanding and consequently evaluation of their message. Probe When people speak, there may be much that is assumed or otherwise left out of what is said. A useful approach is to probe, asking questions to add useful information and help them develop their argument. Care here is needed to avoid leading questions, and other ways your interaction can ‘pollute’ the argument the other person is giving, turning it into a normal conversation rather than an assessment of another person’s views. A useful tool for probing are the Kipling questions of how, what, why, when where and who. These can give you much extra, useful information. Discrimination An important part of listening and evaluation is in separating one thing from another. This may take more time and questions, but lets you more accurately understand differences and get to important detail. An unskilled listener will quickly categorize what is said into one of a few types of argument. A more skilled person will have many categories and always seek more intermediate or extended cases. Knowledge of argumentation Logical argument is a well-developed field that goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. An understanding of this field will help you analyze and probe to assess the effectiveness of any proposition. Fallacies in critical listening It is easy to get critical listening wrong, which is a particular sin as the critical listener, setting themself up as a judge, must be impeccable in their judgment or lose serious credibility. Judging the person, not the message A common error made by those who would be critical in their judgment is that they stray into judging the person rather than their argument. In this way the speaker is found bad, deceitful and so on. False positives A ‘false positive’ in evaluation of the argument is where you judge it as good whilst it is actually flawed in some way. This can happen when your ability to judge is limited by your knowledge or logic capabilities. False positives also happens where you make an evaluation based on the character of the speaker rather than what they are saying. Similarly, social desirability bias leads you to be ‘kind’ because you want to be liked. False negatives A ‘false negative’ occurs where you incorrectly judge the argument as being flawed when in fact it is actually valid. This can again happen due to lack of skill of the evaluator. It can also happen if you are overly critical of the speaker.

Depth of listening

There are several different types of listening, based on how deeply you are listening to the other person. If you can identify these, then you can choose which you want to use. False listening False listening occurs where a person is pretending to listen but is not hearing anything that is being said. They may nod, smile and grunt in all the right places, but do not actually take in anything that is said. This is a skill that may be finely honed by people who do a lot of inconsequential listening, such as politicians and royalty. Their goal with their audience is to make a good impression in very short space of time before they move on, never to talk to that person again. It is also something practiced by couples, particularly where one side does most of the talking. However, the need for relationship here can lead to this being spotted (‘You’re not listening again!’) and consequent conflict. Initial listening Sometimes when we listen we hear the first few words and then start to think about what we want to say in return. We then look for a point at which we can interrupt. We are also not listening then as we are spending more time rehearsing what we are going to say about their initial point. Selective listening Selective listening involves listening for particular things and ignoring others. We thus hear what we want to hear and pay little attention to ‘extraneous’ detail. Partial listening Partial listening is what most of us do most of the time. We listen to the other person with the best of intent and then become distracted, either by stray thoughts or by something that the other person has said. We consequently dip inside our own heads for a short while as we figure out what they really mean or formulate a question for them, before coming back into the room and starting to listen again. This can be problematic when the other person has moved on and we are unable to pick up the threads of what is being said. We thus easily can fall into false listening, at least for a short while. This can be embarrassing, of course, if they suddenly ask your opinion. A tip here: own up, admitting that you had lost the thread of the conversation and asking them to repeat what was said. Full listening Full listening happens where the listener pays close and careful attention to what is being said, seeking carefully to understand the full content that the speaker is seeking to put across. This may be very active form of listening, with pauses for summaries and testing that understanding is complete. By the end of the conversation, the listener and the speaker will probably agree that the listener has fully understood what was said. Full listening takes much more effort than partial listening, as it requires close concentration, possibly for a protracted period. It also requires skills of understanding and summary. Deep listening Beyond the intensity of full listening, you can also reach into a form of listening that not only hears what is said but also seeks to understand the whole person behind the words. In deep listening, you listen between the lines of what is said, hearing the emotion, watching the body language, detecting needs and goals, identifying preferences and biases, perceiving beliefs and values, and so on. To listen deeply, you need a strong understanding of human psychology (which this site seeks to give you) and to pay attention not just to the words by the whole person. Deep listening is also known as ‘Whole person’ listening. See also Explanations

Environmental factors

There are a number of factors that affect listening and the ability of the speaker to speak and the listener to listen. In particular, in more sensitive situations when attention and privacy are important, then external elements that distract or interrupt become increasingly significant. Sensory factors Any factors which affect the senses can either support or hinder listening. In particular, sudden changes in sensory factors create a contrastive effect that can be very distracting. Sights What you can see can be very distracting or not. Anything moving and people in particular are distracting, even when they are not known. On the other hand, sitting by a window can be both relaxing and also distracting when interesting events are unfolding outside. Sound A noisy room provides much distraction, as sound is an important element of listening. People interrupting and asking questions or even talking nearby are a particular distraction and can put talkers off. Smell The human nose is a very sensitive instrument and smells can be very evocative and distracting. For this reason, listening in a cafeteria or restaurant may or may not be a good idea. A good chat over dinner can be very helpful, but sitting in the company cafeteria whilst luncheon smells waft past may be less desirable. Temperature and humidity It is difficult to talk comfortably if it is too hot, too cold or too humid. If you are sweating profusely it is not easy to talk or listen. Decor The decoration of a room can be relaxing, with pastel shades and subdued lighting, or it can be fussy, loud and generally distracting. Physical comfort The comfort of seating, carpeting and other elements also helps with encouraging talk. Particularly if you are going to be talking for a while, a comfortable environment can be important. Physiological factors Discomfort If the listener is uncomfortable in any way then their discomfort acts as a distraction and reduces their ability to talk or listen. Pain is an even more extreme version of this, and if somebody is hurting they will not be able to talk or listen for long. Illness Related to distraction is illness. Someone who is ill in some way may first be more interested in getting better than talking or listening. Illness also may affect the mind and the ability to focus. Fatigue When somebody is tired, either after physical exercise or perhaps a hard day’s work, they will likely lack the ability to concentrate on listening or be less ready to talk, particularly about important topics. Stress Any form of stress is likely to put the person into a state where they are less comfortable and are unwilling or unable to talk or listen. Stress should thus be treated either by an initial winding down to reduce stress or by putting off the discussion until a place and time can be found that is less stressful.

Good listening habits###

There are many bad listening habits that are very common. You can also use the habit pattern to cultivate listening behaviors that will help the other person (and yourself at the same time). Give full attention The first habit of listening is to pay attention to the person who is speaking. Give them your full attention — and visibly so. Attend not only with your ears but with your whole body. Turn to face them. Gaze intently at them. The trick to full attention is to do it from inside your head, not just by moving your body. If you can be truly interested (which is often just a matter of attitude) then your body will happily follow your mind. Help them speak Sometimes the speaker is having difficulty getting their point across. Maybe they are not that good at speaking or are seeking to explain a complex concept. You can help them and yourself by positive encouragement. If they lack confidence, encourage them with nods, smiles and positive noises. Show that you are interested in them and don’t mind that they are not particularly erudite. If they are struggling with a concept, try to paraphrase what they are saying. Asking positive questions is a generally good approach, both to test your own understanding and also to demonstrate interest. Support the person Good listening also includes acting in a way that is considerate of the other person. As a part of listening, you should seek to help the person feel good about themselves. Having someone pay close attention to you and show interest is very flattering and usually feels good. A fundamental attitude to support this is to value and accept all people, even if you do not agree with what they have to say or how they say it. Thus, if you disagree, disagree with the argument and not with the person. Show your acceptance of their right to differ with you, whilst stating your opposition to what they say. Manage your reactions Finally, be careful with how you react to what the other person says. It is easy to be put off by listeners who show a marked lack of interest, who do not seem to understand what you are saying or who seem more concerned with criticizing you and showing how they do not need to listen to you. Before you comment about what the other person has said, pause before you dive into a response. Notice your own internal inferences and biases. Think about what you would say and the effect that it would have. Consider if this is what you want to achieve.

High-integrity listening

An approach to listening that integrates a high level of personal integrity requires that you both listen and respond with integrity. Listen openly Listening with honesty requires an openness that accepts both the person and their thoughts. Active listening Use Active Listening methods to encourage the other person to speak by accepting both them and their arguments. In this, you are modeling an open honesty of behavior that you will subsequently want them to use in return. Accepting possibilities When they make comments and suggest ideas, do not dismiss them, no matter how stupid or bad they may seem. These are the other person’s truths. Respond honestly Sometimes the most difficult part of high-integrity listening is sticking to your guns after listening to the other person in giving your own view. No ‘yes-man’ Do not fall into the ‘yes-man’ pattern, where your desire to be liked leads you to accept and appear to agree with the other person’s view when you actually have reservations or think that it is wrong in some way. Be straightforward Be clear, straightforward and honest, avoiding floppy language. Make your response true and honest as to your perceptions. You are again modeling behavior for the other person, encouraging them to be equally up-front with their perceptions. Talk about feelings Demonstrate Emotional Intelligence in your response, talking about how you feel about their thoughts and the subject in question. This also legitimizes and encourages their expressions of emotion.

Listen to the inner person

Listening to the inner person means listening for specific signals within what they say and do that indicate their deeper motivations. Needs Listen to their needs, including statements they make about themselves, about safety, about belonging, etc. Listen to needs, wants and likes. For example, if they say ‘I like working here’ then this is a statement about belonging. Beliefs and models Listen for beliefs, assumptions and other leaps. Listen for assertions of truth that the make. Watch for their reactions to the ideas of others. For example, if they say ‘This will make it work’ then they are making assumptions about how things work. Values Listen for ‘musts’, ‘shoulds’ etc. that indicate their values. Listen for judgment, especially of others. For example, if they say ‘That is wrong’ then this indicates that they have a right-wrong value about this domain. Goals Listen to what is being done and seek to find the stated goal that is driving action. Distinguish goals from needs: goals are set to achieve needs. For example, if they say ‘I am going to visit RHR tomorrow’ then ask what purpose that visit will achieve and what objective or goal will be achieved by the visit. Emotional intelligence Listen for their level of emotional intelligence, for example in whether they just react or are aware of and control their own emotions. Their level or emotional control may be evident in speech, whether it is lack of control, over-control or comfortable acceptance. For example, if they say in a reasonably level tone ‘I feel annoyed by that’ they are demonstrating awareness of their emotions and also control. Preferences Look for the preferences and biases that they show. For example, if they say ‘Let’s look at the big picture’ then this may indicate a preference for ideas and large-chunk viewpoint rather than diving into the tactical detail.

Listener preferences

There are several styles of listening that are typically associated with the goals of the listener. These typically appear along a spectrum as in the descriptions below. Action vs. Ideas A listener with an action focus is constantly asking ‘So what’ in terms of what must be done, who is going to do the identified action and when this will happen. A listener with an intellectual focus is interested in novel ideas, the big picture and overall understanding of what is being said. They are more relaxed and prefer to take their time over exploring ideas and discovering new meaning. Fact vs. Feeling Listeners who seek facts are interested in what is real and can be proved with plentiful evidence. They are often cautious about opinions which are dressed up as facts and will question closely to identify what is true and real as opposed to that which is only supposed to be so. They also tend to think about things in logical ways and like rational thinking and argument. Listeners who are feeling-based seek to understand how emotions are contained in and impacted by what is being said. They empathize with the other person and notice how they feel about things themselves. Judging vs. Accepting Some people are particularly judgmental and will quickly evaluate what others say as to how right and wrong it is and how good or bad the person is for thinking or saying these things. An accepting position does not judge the person although what is being said may still be evaluated as more or less valid or useful. Self vs. Other A listener with a self focus related everything that is said to themself. They seek meaning within their own frame of reference and in relation to how their own needs and goals can be satisfied. If they do not see benefit for themselves they will clock-watch and, if they cannot turn the conversation to their own benefit, will excuse themselves as soon as possible. A listener who places their focus on the other person is concerned about what the other person thinks and feels and whether their needs are being met. See also Preferences, Frame of Reference

Listening styles

There are four styles of listening that people use when listening, depending on their preferences and purpose, as originated by Barker (1971) and developed with Watson (1995). People-oriented Those who are people-oriented show a strong concern for others and their feelings. They are external in focus, getting their energy from others and find much meaning in relationships, talking about ‘we’ more than ‘you’ or ‘they’. They will seek to understand the life stories of others and use storying themselves as a means of understanding. They will focus on emotions, be empathetic and use appeal to emotion in their arguments. They may seem vulnerable and will use this to show that they are harmless. They can find problems when they become overly involved with others and ‘go native’. This can impair their sense of judgement and ability to discriminate. They may associate so strongly with others they do not see limitations and faults, and may be drawn into unwise relationships. They also may be seen as intrusive when they seek to connect with others who are not so relationship-oriented. Content-oriented People who are content-oriented are interested more in what is said rather than who is saying it or what they are feeling. They assess people more by how credible they are and will seek to test expertize and truthfulness. They focus on facts and evidence and happily probe into detail. They are cautious in their assessment, seeking to understand cause-and-effect and sound proof before accepting anything as true. They look for both pros and cons in arguments and seek solid logical argument. They can run into trouble when they ignore the ideas and wishes of the other person and may ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, rejecting information because it does not have sufficient supporting evidence. Action-oriented Action-Oriented listeners focus on are interested first on what will be done, what actions will happen, when and who will do them. They seek ‘so what’ answers in their questions and look for plans of action. They like clear, crisp descriptions and answers that are grounded in concrete reality. They like structure, bullet-points and numbered action items. They can be impatient and hurry speakers towards conclusions. They may also be critical of people who start with the big picture and talk in ideas or concepts. This can lead them to appear overly concerned with control and less with the well-being of other people. Time-oriented People who are time-oriented have their eyes constantly on the clock. They organize their day into neat compartments and will allocate time for listening, though will be very concerned if such sessions over-run. They manage this time focus by talking about time available and seeking short answers which are to the point. This may constrain and annoy people who are focused first on people elements and want to take as long as is needed. See also Preferences, Types of listening, Head, hands and heart

Listening to Anger

Sometimes when people are talking with you they are frustrated or angry about something. This creates and builds internal tension as they think about the gap between what is and what they think should be. This pressure drives them to expel the discomfort, to vent their feelings, having a rant at whoever will listen. Don’t defend When people rant at us, a natural response is to defend ourselves (or just leave) in a fight-or-flight reaction. We experience their anger and feel uncomfortable. Perhaps because of their words we feel they are angry at us. Maybe we just find it difficult to cope with our own negative feelings and want them to stop. But if we respond critically, the situation may turn into an argument that does more harm than good. They may use your rising anger to facilitate and legitimate their continued expulsion of hurt, which may make them feel better about the original situation but then worse again as your relationship with them suffers. They may alternatively realize you are unable to listen to them and retreat, stopping their rant and still feeling bad. Don’t advise Another response is to offer advice. This can be defensive as we deflect attention back onto the other person. It may be well-intentioned yet still ineffective as the person is not ready for advice as they are too full of emotion to stop and listen calmly. We go into parent mode as we tell them what they should do. Or we become friendly problem solvers, treating their situation as a puzzle that needs fixing. However, even if we ask probing or Socratic questions, this can still just make matters worse and they may turn their anger directly on us, perhaps pushing us into the defending trap. Don’t just listen When a person is ranting, they are not seeking advice. They just want to feel better by pushing out their bad feelings. When we realize this we may conclude they just want us to listen, so we do. But sitting and silently listening is not enough. They are trying to push out bad feelings, not make an eloquent speech. While just listening can help, there are better things to do than just sitting there and saying nothing. Don’t over-sympathize A further response that we may offer is to take their part, agreeing they are right and joining them in righteous indignation. While this may help, it can also intensify and prolong their feelings of anger. Now, having a partner, the annoyance becomes a cause which is fired by continuing high emotion. What they want First of all they want to be recognized and their hurt acknowledged. They want you to accept what they say without criticism. Then they want to know that they are justified in their anger. That they are not personally bad for feeling this way. That it normal for them to be frustrated at the situation in which they find themselves. They may also appreciate your help in getting out those feelings. When we are in an emotional state, we are not good at understanding how to expel the discomfort and feel better. Know that it is not you The first step of helping is to realize that their frustrations are theirs. Even if they are projecting anger directly at you, the anger is always theirs. It is also very likely that you are not the problem. You just happen to be there and you may feel the sharpness of their tongue, but it is important not to feel you are personally being blamed, nor that it is somehow all your fault. When you know that it is not you, then you have no need to defend and can place your energies in helping the other person. If it really is you, then a simply apology may be appropriate along with the effective listening described here. Help them draw the sting When a bee stings you and leaves the barb in your skin, you need someone to help carefully draw out that sting. It is similar with frustration and anger, where the drawing of the sting can be done with facilitative questions that bleed out the emotion, leaving the person calmer and relieved. There is an optimal rate at which to release painful emotion. Too fast and the pain will be unbearable, sending them into shock. Too slow and the pain will be drawn out, prolonging the agony and maybe never really curing the problem. A good early question is to ask what it is that is frustrating them. If they answer vaguely, ask about what frustrates them most. This should help them focus on the cause of their feelings. It is a non-judgemental question that avoids making them want to defend themselves. Then asking about what is making them angry goes to deeper emotions, drawing out stronger feelings. Note the difference between ‘What is making you angry?’ and ‘Why are you angry?’ Asking ‘what’ allows them to keep attention outside them, on other people and situations. Asking ‘why’ pushes attention inside them, seeking what it is about them that leads them to anger. This is a deeper challenge for which they may not be ready. You can see the anger coming out through the language they use. Notice absolute words like ‘never’ and ‘always’. Hear emotion in their voices and emotive words like ‘failed’ and ‘again’. When the anger has subsided, ask what is worrying them. This often gets to the heart of the matter as it is our inner anxieties that lead to external frustration and anger. Don’t blindly follow this advice While there is clear advice here on how to handle anger, the ‘don’ts’ above are not commands and there are times when all of them can be appropriate, such as: When their anger at you is severe, your defending yourself may make them realize they are over-doing it and be shocked into rethinking their whole situation. When they are not lost in the emotion, advice may be heard and appreciated. When they are clear about what they want to say, just quiet listening may be enough. When they are sad, sympathy can make them feel better. The skill of listening to anger is knowing what will work best right now. This comes from trying different approaches and finding what works for you in different situations. When doing this, take note of the suggestions here, being cautious of your own needs getting in the way and knowing that what seems right may not always be the best way. See also Counseling, Anger, Stress, Argument

Types of listening

Here are six types of listening, starting with basic discrimination of sounds and ending in deep communication. Discriminative listening Discriminative listening is the most basic type of listening, whereby the difference between difference sounds is identified. If you cannot hear differences, then you cannot make sense of the meaning that is expressed by such differences. We learn to discriminate between sounds within our own language early, and later are unable to discriminate between the phonemes of other languages. This is one reason why a person from one country finds it difficult to speak another language perfectly, as they are unable distinguish the subtle sounds that are required in that language. Likewise, a person who cannot hear the subtleties of emotional variation in another person’s voice will be less likely to be able to discern the emotions the other person is experiencing. Listening is a visual as well as auditory act, as we communicate much through body language. We thus also need to be able to discriminate between muscle and skeletal movements that signify different meanings. Comprehension listening The next step beyond discriminating between different sound and sights is to make sense of them. To comprehend the meaning requires first having a lexicon of words at our fingertips and also all rules of grammar and syntax by which we can understand what others are saying. The same is true, of course, for the visual components of communication, and an understanding of body language helps us understand what the other person is really meaning. In communication, some words are more important and some less so, and comprehension often benefits from extraction of key facts and items from a long spiel. Comprehension listening is also known as content listening, informative listening and full listening. Critical listening Critical listening is listening in order to evaluate and judge, forming opinion about what is being said. Judgment includes assessing strengths and weaknesses, agreement and approval. This form of listening requires significant real-time cognitive effort as the listener analyzes what is being said, relating it to existing knowledge and rules, whilst simultaneously listening to the ongoing words from the speaker. Biased listening Biased listening happens when the person hears only what they want to hear, typically misinterpreting what the other person says based on the stereotypes and other biases that they have. Such biased listening is often very evaluative in nature. Evaluative listening In evaluative listening, or critical listening, we make judgments about what the other person is saying. We seek to assess the truth of what is being said. We also judge what they say against our values, assessing them as good or bad, worthy or unworthy. Evaluative listening is particularly pertinent when the other person is trying to persuade us, perhaps to change our behavior and maybe even to change our beliefs. Within this, we also discriminate between subtleties of language and comprehend the inner meaning of what is said. Typically also we weigh up the pros and cons of an argument, determining whether it makes sense logically as well as whether it is helpful to us. Evaluative listening is also called critical, judgmental or interpretive listening. Appreciative listening In appreciative listening, we seek certain information which will appreciate, for example that which helps meet our needs and goals. We use appreciative listening when we are listening to good music, poetry or maybe even the stirring words of a great leader. Sympathetic listening In sympathetic listening we care about the other person and show this concern in the way we pay close attention and express our sorrow for their ills and happiness at their joys. Empathetic listening When we listen empathetically, we go beyond sympathy to seek a truer understand how others are feeling. This requires excellent discrimination and close attention to the nuances of emotional signals. When we are being truly empathetic, we actually feel what they are feeling. In order to get others to expose these deep parts of themselves to us, we also need to demonstrate our empathy in our demeanor towards them, asking sensitively and in a way that encourages self-disclosure. Therapeutic listening In therapeutic listening, the listener has a purpose of not only empathizing with the speaker but also to use this deep connection in order to help the speaker understand, change or develop in some way. This not only happens when you go to see a therapist but also in many social situations, where friends and family seek to both diagnose problems from listening and also to help the speaker cure themselves, perhaps by some cathartic process. This also happens in work situations, where managers, HR people, trainers and coaches seek to help employees learn and develop. Dialogic listening The word ‘dialogue’ stems from the Greek words ‘dia’, meaning ‘through’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘words’. Thus dialogic listening mean learning through conversation and an engaged interchange of ideas and information in which we actively seek to learn more about the person and how they think. Dialogic listening is sometimes known as ‘relational listening’. Relationship listening Sometimes the most important factor in listening is in order to develop or sustain a relationship. This is why lovers talk for hours and attend closely to what each other has to say when the same words from someone else would seem to be rather boring. Relationship listening is also important in areas such as negotiation and sales, where it is helpful if the other person likes you and trusts you. See also Depth of listening

Why you should listen

Listening is not just being polite and can add a great deal of value for the listener. You can also get a lot done. Great leaders, coaches and facilitators are also great listeners. Building trust People who listen are trusted more than those who grab the talking stick and barge straight into chatter. Trust is the grease of changing minds and listening is the key. Credibility If you listen first to others and more to others, then your credibility with them (and with other listeners) will go up. They are perceived as competent, capable and working with others rather than against them. Good leaders are good at listening and good listeners are seen as potentially good leaders. It was said of Gladstone, a 19th century British Prime Minister, that if you had dinner with him, you came away believing that he was the most intelligent person in the country. However, if you had dinner with Disraeli, a peer who also became Prime Minister, you came away believing that you were the most intelligent person in the country. Clearly, Disraeli knew how to listen better than Gladstone. Support Listening alone is a good supportive activity that people appreciate, especially when they are upset or otherwise concerned. Listening shows respect and empathy for other people. By listening, you are sending a message that says ‘You are important to me. I respect you.’ Listening thus boosts their sense of identity. Getting things done As well as building trust, listening also lets you achieve your goals. Information To paraphrase Yogi Berra, ‘you can hear a lot just by listening’. Listening gives you lots of information that can be useful, both now and in the future. Especially if you can guide what the person is saying, you can achieve much with very little talk. Exchange Very significantly, if you listen to other people, they are more likely to listen to you. From the exchange principle, your support of them obliges them to return support to you, which you can then use to achieve your goals. See also Exchange principle

Why people do not listen

One of the reasons people are not good at listening is because they do not listen. Listening skills start with paying attention. If you know why your mind is tending not to listen, then you have taken the first step in addressing this. I’d rather talk Talking can seem far more useful and attractive than listening, and so people will seek to talk rather than listen. Needs Talking seems to better address more needs than listening. When I talk, I am in control, and can steer the conversation any way that I choose. When I talk I am also the center of attention, which boosts my sense of identity. Goals When I am talking, then I have a better opportunity to achieve my goals, for example by telling other people to do things that I need them to do. I can keep the conversation on my own agenda and prevent others from talking about things that are of no interest to me. I’m distracted Busy thinking We talk at 200-250 wpm (words per minute) but can listen at 300-500 wpm. Thus when the other person is talking, we get side-tracked by our own thoughts (which may well be triggered by one thing that the speaker says). When we come back into the room, we find that we have lost track of the conversation. Rather than lose face and become embarrassed by this, we nod, smile and hope nobody will notice. Busy waiting When we have decided that we want to respond to the speaker, we then stop listening for two reasons. To avoid forgetting what we are going to say, we need to keep rehearsing our thoughts and words and so get lost inside our own heads. We also stay inside as we think about better ways to put our case. When we are paying attention to the speaker, we are not listening to what they say but listening for a space in which we can interject with our reply. It’s not interesting Speakers are responsible for their listeners every bit as much as the listeners are responsible for listening. The speaker can thus do their bit to stop other people listening to them, including: Using boring and uninteresting language Using complex and difficult language Using a flat speaking tone Not using supporting body language Not paying attention to the listeners Insulting the listeners (perhaps accidentally) Talking about things that are not of interest to the listener Talking for too long Not giving the listener the opportunity to reply This does not excuse the listener, although it may make their job harder. If you are a speaker, one of your first jobs is to try to help the other person keep listening. I’m busy talking People who are talking usually have attention on themselves and what they are saying. With this self-focus, they do not notice that other people are waiting to speak or want to comment about what the speaker has said. Even if they do notice, many people will continue to talk, either to retain control or to fulfill their need for completion (even if nobody is listening!). See also Needs, Goals

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