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Pay attention: How I’m listening to improve my communication

March 25, 2013

A friend asked me recently about my best quality.

I’m not sure what it is, but I know what I’d like it to be: a good listener.

listening deviceMuch of my ongoing pursuit of self-improvement has been on focus of late. I believe that becoming better at listening is absolutely essential in that mission.

I’m guilty of not listening well at times: letting my mind wander (an introvert’s favorite diversionary tactic), checking my phone during meetings and presentations, becoming distracted, trying to multitask. Have you done these things? Are they making you miss out on something important happening right now in front of you?

On becoming a better listener, I include visual as well as aural. In reading messages, emails and blog comments, am I paying attention to what someone is trying to tell me? Or am I skimming through it and carelessly creating miscommunication?

Perhaps at the core of my motivation for listening is the Golden Rule: Am I listening to others as I would have them listen to me? Certainly for me, nothing is more flattering than an attentive audience, even an audience of one.

I have been slowly improving my listening skills in three ways.

1. Zero interruptions. I can appreciate how frustrating it must be for you to tell me an important story, only to have me interrupt your flow. I will acknowledge that I am still paying attention with an “mm-hmm” or a nod, but I’d rather let you speak unimpeded.

2. Repeating back what you said. I will occasionally summarize your points or your argument for two reasons. First, I want to make sure you know I’ve paid attention. Second, I want to ensure that I’ve received your information accurately. If I repeat it back incorrectly, you can straighten me out on the spot. This can be an important tool for a reporter.

At the very least, I repeat back what you said in my head, to improve comprehension.

3. Asking good followup questions. If I really want to put my listening skills to the test, I’ll ask questions that get to the heart of the matter. By digging deeper, I can better understand your concerns and your message. This means paying attention not only to words, but to tone, facial expression and connotation.

I will sometimes unintentionally bury my true meaning through poor phrasing or wandering answers. A good listener will ask me a question that puts me back on track, which I appreciate greatly.

These three techniques help me learn more from the people around me. They save time in the long run from costly mistakes and preventable misunderstanding.

And they help me focus on the moment, rather than any other place or time in the universe.

The world is a more interesting place when I’m paying attention to what it’s trying to tell me.

Photo: James Vaughan (CC)

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. melodyroseparker permalink
    March 25, 2013 9:39 am

    Great blog, Wade! One of my favorite mentors said, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. That means you should listen at least twice as much as you talk.”

  2. March 25, 2013 1:19 pm

    Like I tweeted – One of the 7 Habits is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – you beautifully express this here! Mega-Likes!

    • March 25, 2013 5:30 pm

      Thanks, Joe! What great wisdom you have shared.

      • March 26, 2013 11:53 am

        Thanks, Wade! I’ve learned in my own efforts to always improve here (and from reading 7 habits a few times – haha), when you seek first to understand, as you are doing here, people will know that. People sense when they are being “techniqued” and will tend to shut down. But when you’re intently listening, clarifying, and truly ingesting what they’re saying, people sense it and open up and share – which is your wonderful goal here! AND you’ve expressed it beautifully!

        PLUS, when you seek to be understood, you have a richer context of what the other person is looking for and needs – you have the context necessary to reach them in a meaningful way.

        The result is both are influenced in a positive way. Both have had the honor of being listened to. Both come away with a deeper understanding.

        And both will want to do it more…

  3. March 26, 2013 12:10 pm

    I love this! I learned something last week that I hope will stick with me for a long time: WAIT (Why Am I Talking?)

    • kurtjoekurtjoe permalink
      March 26, 2013 12:11 pm

      WAIT = “Why Am I Talking?” – OMG! That’s BRILLIANT!!! LUV!

    • March 26, 2013 5:54 pm

      Very clever, Sherri!

  4. Kristen permalink
    March 27, 2013 11:54 am

    Great tips Wade. I can attest that you are a great listener, and friend, too!

  5. March 27, 2013 4:25 pm

    Agreed, but I would add that the visual observations of non-verbal ques are just as important for human communications. Like a peacock with his feathers.. What is he really saying?

    • March 30, 2013 11:02 am

      Good point. Body language, facial expressions, gestures, tone, volume and speed are all great indicators.


  1. The 2013 index to posts | Birmingham Blogging Academy
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