My last blog listed types of listeners. From the ‘pouncer’ to the ‘monopolizer.’ Now, on a more positive note, this post suggests ways to enhance conversation. The first (and for me) most challenging step calls on us to become empathic listeners. I came across this term in an article by Dr. Tammy Lenski* who attributed it to author Steven Covey. For Covey “empathic listening is listening from the other person’s frame of reference. Only empathic listening comes from a desire and commitment to listen without an agenda (emphasis added).”
Developing the “mental muscle” to listen empathically takes practice. Give it a shot the next time you’re engaged in dialogue. In addition, consider these techniques to enrich your exchanges:
1. Think of conversation as juggling. Most jugglers have to concentrate on keeping several balls in the air. To keep a conversation going, focus on what you’re hearing from the speaker, not your interior dialogue.
2. What you’ve just heard may not require an immediate verbal response. In some exchanges, facial expressions of concern and interest can play as large a role as speaking.
3. Verbal responses should be deliberative. Off-hand replies risk diminishing the value of what the speaker said and being hurtful and dismissive.
4. Open questions enrich conversation. Queries beginning with “How” or “What” seek to engage the speaker in conversation. Closed questions that only elicit a “yes,” “no,” or another one-word reply stymie, if not devalue, dialogue.
5. Asking “Why?” risks distancing the listener from the speaker, especially if a ‘why question’ requires a speaker to justify what she’s said.
7. Own what you say. Ownership means leading with an “I statement” such as “I think,” “I believe,” or “I imagine.” Owning your words gives them meaning. Instead of saying, for example, “Caregiving is a challenging and at times overwhelming experience, lead off with “In my experience caregiving is…..” See the difference?
8. Be reflective. By mirroring back to the speaker what you’ve heard (using different words) lets a speaker know you are genuinely listening. This is also called “reframing.” For example, if a speaker sounds angry, you might say: “I sense that you are displeased with how things are going.” Or, if a speaker is critical of someone, you can reframe her remarks by stating: “I sense you have some issues with that person.” In other words, acknowledge what been said, but try to de-escalate the emotions behind it.
9. Finally, tailor your words to invite a reply. Stitch them together so that your conversation partner feels heard. Questions like “What else do you recall?” or “Tell me more about it.” add value to your exchange.
*”Five Bad Listening Habits and How to Break Them.” www.tammylenski.com, Oct. 2018.