It’s time to improve your empathetic listening skills! Our culture in the United States seems to value knowledge and achievement. We tend to admire those who have reached a certain level of success, and grant fancy titles to those who excel in higher education. We put some of these people on pedestals.
On the other hand, we also seem to shy away from those we consider know-it-alls. Those who seem to have an answer for everything or may even try to one up the stories they hear turn us off. There seems to be a paradox at play.
Think about the relationships you do cherish. What is the common thread between these people, the one you want to spend more time with? I will argue there is a simple formula, that is we want to spend time with people that show care for us. Those that seem to have a legitimate interest in us and our wellbeing.
Actively Listen to Show Care for Others
The question becomes, what characteristics show that level of care? Or, how can I show others that I actually care about them? I believe the simplest formula is to actively listen. What does that mean, to actively listen? First and foremost is to listen with the intent of understanding their story. As we wrote in an earlier post
“Listen to Understand”, the tendency in our society is to listen to respond. Maybe that is because of what we noted earlier, that our culture values knowledge. We want others to know we are smart, and receive the benefits of our knowledge. Then we listen to respond, jump in and step all over the story, we actually create the opposite of our intentions. We now have turned their story into ours, and in the process, have turned off the other person.
How to go about Actively Listening
To become a better listener, we have to want to. It is a much more difficult process than we think it is. It will take effort, energy and practice to be able to begin to actively listen. The process of active listening begins with intent. If our intention is to become a better listener, I need to listen with all of body and not just my ears. Body language plays a large part in actively listening. Turn towards the other person. Face them in a relaxed and open position, and look them in the eyes. Smile, frown, or let your face show emotion when appropriate based on their story. Nod your head in agreement, raise your eyebrows in wonderment, and simply allow you body to react to the story. This cannot be forced, it must be true emotion, the key is to allow your body to show that emotion.
As the person is telling their story, look for clues in that story that can lead to deeper meaning. Asking questions based on those clues, allows the speaker permission to go deeper. It shows them that not only that you are listening, but you have an interest in their subject. This interest denotes care. Care is what develops relationships. Again, I must emphasize that these questions must not be forced. The speaker will be able to register if your questions are inauthentic.
How to Ask Better Questions
There is an old saying to get better answers, you have to ask better questions. Easier said than done. What constitutes a better question? It is an open ended question, one that cannot be answered with a yes or a no. Those are closed questions and typically end a conversation. If you are looking to dive deeper, as a question that allows the speaker to tell a story. There is a great acronym, one that is easy to remember that allow you to ask better questions. TED.
Start any question with Tell, Describe or Explain. This technique gently forces (or allows) the speaker to go deeper into their story.
“That was so interesting, tell me more about…”
“Describe how it felt to be in the middle of…”
“Explain what it means to …”
These questions all require a deeper story. The deeper story allows you to better understand the speaker. This level of interest shows the speaker that you actually care about them or their story. Care is what builds relationships.