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Listening Skills

Listening Skills

Years ago, when I was having a conversation with my daughter Eva who was only a toddler then, she held my face with her hands and turned it to her. Then told me « Mam, listen! I am talking ». She was right: as many overtired working mums do, I was listening to her with half of one ear, while planning in my head what to cook, how to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting, when I could get a pedicure, that I forgot to bring something to my parents, and how to organise the rest of my life ! Rings a bell ?

As children are right most of the time, Eva knew exactly what to do to get me to actively listen to her. Bring me back to her, and make me focus on her by holding my face, making eye contact and telling me to listen.

And how many times have I been tempted to do the same! Physically turn the faces of collaborators, clients and peers back to me, and tell them « listen to ME ! » !!! Even more so in the digital era when instant « communication » multiplies the distractions. We cannot change others, but, after a conversation we had this morning at the office about listening to each other, here are 5 tips that help me to listen better when Eva isn’t around to shake me:

Eye contact
I try to make eye contact with the person I am talking to, so as to show them that I am actively giving them my full attention. Good method even if this means a painful parting with the phone screen for some minutes 😉

To help my listening process, I often ask questions to not only ensure that I have accurately understood, but to also steer my own brain fully towards the conversation. Questions such as « What I understand from you is that ‘’’’ » or « So your main concerns seems to be that… ». I find that the conversation gets enriched almost immediately.

Not just with ears
7% of communication is verbal. The rest is para verbal and nonverbal. So, I try to listen with all my senses to get many indications from the cues given by the person I am talking to, and which are often other than verbal.

Know yourself
One of my favourite books is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. And I love the character of Elizabeth Bennet even if her strong opinions and haste in making judgements don’t always allow her to hear what the poor Mr Darcy has to say. And I know myself enough to know that I am a bit of a Liz Bennet myself… No comments… So, while listening to someone, one should always try to know one’s own biases, opinions and feelings. Because they impact strongly on our listening. Ever tried to really listen to a point put across by someone we really don’t like ? Or on a topic we feel very strongly about ? It can be problematic…

Follow up
The best way to listen to a conversation is to follow up afterwards with the right actions. If I have committed or agreed to do something, I try to make sure to do it, despite my pedicure, parents, and dinner. The best listening is worth zero if the receiver doesn’t act as spurred by the conversation.

Truly hearing others remains tough. But the above helps, especially when your kids aren’t’ around with their reality check points.