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10 Little-Known Rules in the Art of Listening Cheat Sheet by

10 Secrets/Tips to Art of Listening
rules     listening     art

Listen actively, the right way:

Every article on listening will have an obligatory mention of active listening, which we have all taken to mean: Every time the speaker finishes a sentence, you should say, “What I hear you saying is …” and then repeat their words back to them, slightly rephrased. But that is merely proving you’ve heard. Relati­onship guru/Oprah creation Dr. Phil explains that reflection of feeling, not fact, is more important in active listening. It involves not just parroting but proces­sing, so that instead of replying to news of a dead grandm­other with “When’s the funeral?,” you say, “I’m so sorry; you must be very upset.”

Clean your lenses:

Usually subcon­sci­ously, each of us sees the world through lenses, or filters, as some call it. These are complex constructs of our ego, our belief system, our fears, our prejud­ices, and more. The problem is, these lenses tend to color the way we take in inform­ation by listening. To listen effect­ively (and not just hear what you want to hear), you have to remember to check yourself to ensure your own biases and precon­ceived notions are not distorting the message. A sure sign this needs to happen is when you catch yourself judging the speaker or labeling them with a generality or stereo­type.

Make allowances for gender differ­ences:

You may swear up and down that you know this rule, but in the heat of an argument with your signif­icant other, it usually goes right out the window (so maybe “littl­e-r­eme­mbered” is more accurate). Science has told us men only listen with half their brains, while women use the whole thing. This means that men can either think or feel, but they can’t do both simult­ane­ously. Both men and women need to remain conscious of this fact while commun­ica­ting. If it seems he is only listening to the facts so he can solve the problem, he’s simply defaulting to the “thinking” side. Guys, remember she may not want you to solve the problem; she may be more interested in commun­icating feelings to you. In that (frequent) case, engage the feeling side of your brain.

Listen optimi­sti­cally:

In today’s world of next-day shipping and instant streaming, we’ve gotten used to getting what we want when we want it, which is roughly now to five seconds ago. But conver­sation is a leisurely activity that shouldn’t be rushed; it often needs time to unfold organi­cally and wind its way around before concluding or even finding its footing. If you go into it expected to be bored or offended (thanks to your filters), you probably will be, and at the very least your listening will be impaired. Instead, give your partner the benefit of the doubt and listen expecting to hear something important or worthw­hile, either to you or the speaker. Think of it is an opport­unity not to be entert­ained, but to perform a service.

Don’t miss what the body language is saying:

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Body language can be not only an opport­unity to get the complete message (that may even contradict the words that are being said), it is a way for the listener to convey genuine concern and attention to what a speaker is saying. The eyes “” known as “the window to the soul” “” often speak volumes. Posture is a biggie; teachers can tell in one second which students are paying attention with a single glance around the room. Facial expres­sion, proximity, and gestures can all factor in, as well.

Mastering listening requires training:

As auditory neuros­cie­ntist Seth Horowitz pointed out in a recent New York Times piece, what separates listening from hearing is attention. Our hearing sense is a primitive self-d­efense mechanism that is still working even while we’re asleep and that is present even in the simplest creatures. However, good listening is not innate but can be improved with practice. Horowitz recomm­ended listening to unfamiliar music, the pitch and timbre of your dog’s barks, and your loved one’s voice.

Find the motive:

The goal of listening is to be able to empathize with the speaker, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world through another’s eyes. And like a detective invest­igating a murder, you have to first establish a motive for your speaker before you can have empathy for them. This is easier to do when the speaker is a person you know well, but when you don’t have any idea where a person is coming from, you’ll have to tactfully ask a few probing questions just to assemble enough inform­ation about his or her circum­stances to be able to listen adroitly.

Setting matters:

As with a good home theater, the enviro­nment for commun­ication can make as much of a difference as the tools being used (and often it is similarly overlo­oked). Putting yourself on equal footing with the speaker is important, like both of you standing or both of you sitting. Obviously anything you can do to make the scene quieter will enhance your ability to listen, as will any setting that allows you to make eye contact and demons­trate good body language, as we’ve mentioned.

Quiet your mind:

Since we’ve touched on the subject of quiet, there is a similar rule that is no less important to good listening: taming your thoughts. The phrase “monkey mind” has secured a spot in the vernacular as an accurate metaphor for the way our brains pop from one thought to the next, even when we’re supposed to be meditating or paying attention in class. However you overcome this distra­ction, whether by focused breathing or intense concen­tra­tion, you’ll have to block those thoughts out to listen skillf­ully. Have you gotten the picture that artful listen involves work on your part yet?

Don’t think ahead:

“Be prepared” is a wise maxim, but thinking ahead has no place in the art of listening. Foreca­sting what a speaker is about to say robs a listener of his attention and handcuffs his ability to follow along in the moment. Mentally predicting what someone else is going to say also inherently involves making assump­tions (and we all know what those make out of you and me). This rule is part of the previous one about keeping your thoughts from running rampant and is difficult to pull off, but if you can your listening skills will be the better for it.

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