Effective one-way communication is difficult enough. Effective two-way can be a real challenge.
Truly listening is an art. It is more than half, by far, of effective communication. Until you really understand what a person thinks, feels, wants or needs, you cannot provide true companionship, empathy or solutions.
Communications skills training experts divide the skill of listening into three parts. Practice listening all three ways at once to improve as a listener:
- Listen with your body
Use body language communication skills to show you truly value and hear what the other person is saying. This means turning toward them, making eye contact and eliminating distractions. Put your smart phone down, turn off your screen, and shut out noise from another room. Be deliberate about these steps. Your nonverbal message is that you want to listen because you care about the person and what they are saying.
- Listen with your head
Next, you must pay close attention and add to the conversation with understanding. Keep your mind on track by mentally summarizing their main points. Consciously follow their thinking and then probe for better understanding. Ask questions where you need more information. Confirm your understanding with phrases such as, “I heard you say…., is that accurate?”
- Listen with your heart
Communications skills training focuses not only on the words, but the music. Try to get a sense of the point of the conversation. Does the other person want your approval or corroboration? Are they testing a new idea? Do they need something from you? Are they looking for emotional support? Once you understand the purpose of the communication, you can respond appropriately. The clues will come through the other’s body language, their tone of voice, and the words they use to respond to your questions.
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