Don’t Be a Parrot
You are probably familiar with the communication tool, “Repeat back to the person what they said to ensure you understood what they were saying.” Listening is not just repeating back to the person the words which they said — that means you only comprehended 10 percent of what they were communicating. Instead of regurgitating the words back like a parrot, try reflecting. Reflective listening takes into account the words along with the tone and body language. Many times, the words, tone and body language all say something different. The words may be saying everything is okay, while the tone is angry and defensive, and the body language is timid and scared. Which emotion do you respond to? By reflecting all three of these back to the person, you can gain a better understanding of what they are trying to communicate. You will also build trust with the person and connect with them on a deeper level.
3 Enemies of Listening
Want to test someone to see if they are a great listener? Try this activity. Hold up a pen and have them ask you, “What color is this pen?” Respond with a color other than what the pen actually is. If you are holding up a blue pen, say it’s pink. Observe their response. Have them take part in a dialogue with you about the pen. Chances are they used one or several of the enemies of listening.
1. Judging — We judge with our words as well as our silence. We judge with facial expressions and our reactions. A simple facial expression toward someone’s response can drastically affect that person’s view of you. In the pen example, their response may be to laugh, or cringe in a way that tells you they do not agree or think you are nuts! Both of which do not actively build trust when trying to communicate and listen.
2. Reading your own autobiography — Anytime you respond with a reference to yourself, you are “reading your own autobiography.” We all know people who can’t wait to turn the conversation back to them. In the pen example, you may hear someone say “I think the pen is blue,” wanting the conversation to be about them and why the other is wrong.
3. Interrogating — Everyone has a defense mechanism that makes them shut down after a question or two. After that, they start to get defensive and protect themselves. Go into a department store and watch when the sales person asks, “May I help you with something?” The response is almost always, “No, I’m just looking.” When you interrogate, before reflection of words, tone and body language, you are trying to solve the problem before you know what the problem is.
Use this drill to coach and actively practice listening. When the person can respond three times without using any of the enemies of listening while reflecting, then they are on their way to being a great listener.
Shawn Stewart is the Operations Manager at Gainesville Health and Fitness Center. Contact him at email@example.com