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How I’m listening to improve my communication: An update

August 17, 2015

row of ears

Photo: woodleywonderworks (CC)

Listening is a wonderful skill that I hone every day. I think I’ve been improving since making a pledge 29 months ago to work on this tool.

It calms me. It helps me focus. It shows the other person that I care.

A bonus is that careful listening allows me to be a better observer of communication skills in the real world. Sadly, many folks could use some major improvement there. It can be frustrating for me to not be heard. And it happens a lot, through incomplete email replies, distracted parties texting on their phone, outright shunning.

I took on three areas where I wanted to improve my listening skills. I’ve made progress, but I have a ways to go.

1. Zero interruptions. So far, this has been fairly easy. When face to face with another, that person has the floor as long as she wants. Really, the only part where I’ve had difficulty is on the phone. It’s always been a guessing game for me, either interrupting someone mid-thought or pausing so long that the she ends up asking if I’m still on the line.

2. Repeating back what the other said. I don’t do this very much, so I need to work harder on this tactic. It’s simple, it’s quick, and it reassures the other person that I have heard her message correctly.

3. Asking good followup questions. I’ve never had a problem in this area. Years of training as a reporter coupled with natural curiosity means I always have more questions. I’ll have great conversations that go for hours.

One area that sometimes challenges me is focus. When someone is talking, I find it difficult to keep my mind from wandering. The longer someone talks, the more likely I’ll drift.

A technique to combat this tendency is to repeat in my head what the other person is saying. I don’t remember where I picked up this tip from a few years ago, but I’ve tried it sporadically. It could help me focus better on listening to someone rather than merely pretending to listen.

With listening, I’ll always start with me. It saves time, it eliminates most misunderstandings, and it helps me communicate more effectively.

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