Many of my coaching sessions deal with teaching clients how to listen and respond more effectively. What I have discovered is that humans orient or adjust themselves towards a particular mode or way of listening and responding when interacting with others. For instance, have you ever been in a conversation where you are talking, and the other person interrupts with “oh, let me tell you what happened to me” or “you know, I had a similar experience…let me tell you about me.” Worse, the person changes the subject entirely while you are talking. In that moment, they have oriented their listening and response towards themselves (e.g., how they feel and what they think). Each of us react this way at one point or another during a conversation. From paying attention to something else, focusing on unimportant parts of the conversation, or giving unwelcomed opinions, we frequently orient our listening and responses towards what we are thinking and feeling, and away from the other person.
For effective communication, listening and response orientations should be fully “other” focused. Meaning, pay attention to the person you are in a conversation with so that you can completely grasp what the other person is communicating. This includes paying attention to the context and underlying meaning of the message. Likewise, your response orientation should be open, meaningful and non-judging so that dialog and information can easily flow and be accepted. Many relationships fail because of poor communication (inattentive listening or unrelated responses). In unoriented listening and closed response orientations, at least one person is focused towards a personal agenda. When we orient our listening and responses solely towards ourselves, we miss out on important information about the other person. We are more likely to misinterpret the message, project our own emotions and agenda, or demonstrate to the other person that we are uninterested in what he or she is saying. Closed-minded responses can lead to resentment and feelings of rejection and invalidation.
The message I convey to my clients is that a good communicator knows when and how to orient his or her listening and responses to be objective and other-focused. To improve listening and response orientations, you have to change your perception about the conversation and match your communication style with the person for which you are interacting. To do this:
- Focus on the other person in the conversation.
o Orient your listening and responses directly around the person’s message and communication style.
o Be in-tune with the other person’s energy and adjust your listening and response orientations to reflect positive, open communication and understanding.
o Listen for changes in voice tone, for instance, is the person excited or flat in speech?
o Pay attention to body language, and eye contact; how the body responds says a lot about what the person is feeling.
o Adjust your listening and responses so the person feels acknowledged and valued.
- Do not rush to make a point, suggestion, or interjection.
o Allow the person to freely and fully express his/her words, thoughts and feelings without you judging the message as right or wrong, or without interrupting with your opinion.
o Respond with suggestions or advice only when requested; if you are not asked for advice, don’t give it because sometimes all a person wants is for you to listen
o Ask if you can present a personal example to demonstrate you relate to their message, for example “do you mind if I tell you a personal experience related to how you feel?” That way you give the person the option to listen to you, and this makes them more willing and open towards you.
- Use “I” statements, not “You” statements when you respond.
o (correct) I statement: I feel frustrated when you leave the toilet seat up
o (incorrect) You statement: You frustrate me because you always leave the toilet seat up
- Take ownership for your feelings, emotions, and perceptions during the conversation.
o You choose what to feel, what not to feel and how to feel.
o Your perceptions are yours, and not the person you are speaking with.
- Don’t blame or judge the other person for how he or she feels.
o Feelings are neither right or wrong, they are personal and subjective based on experiences.
o Everyone has feelings and opinions; we are entitled to them, but we should not judge them or be judged by them.
- Respond to the situation, not the person or emotions.
o “I’m angry at the outcome and what I am experiencing, I am not angry with you.”
- Be open and respond positively without judgment, people want to be heard, validated and respected.
What strategies do you use to effectively communicate with others? Feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or share your story.