In the current turbulent times of political discourse, social protests, and extended family gatherings during the holidays, there has never been more important time to practice the art of listening. What most people don’t realize is that you will never win an argument if you fail to be a good listener. In other words, if you ignore your audience, they will return the favor. The best way to build a relationship and trust is to be an attentive and “active” listener.
Rule 1. – Make Eye Contact
Not only is making eye contact a sign of respect, confirmation that you are listening, but it is also a positive sign to the other party that you care about what they are saying. Staring out a window, looking down at a computer screen or worse yet, looking at your “smart” phone is non-verbal communication confirming that you simply do not care. You wouldn’t expect to remain married or keep your job if you starred at your cell phone every time your spouse or boss attempted to speak with you.
Rule 2. – Keep an Open Mind
You may not agree with the speaker’s position, however the only way to truly advance your own position or agenda, is to understand the other side of an issue, even you don’t agree with it. This is especially true for people going through marital discord. Often time’s people get so entrenched in a position (ie. deciding a school district for children as an example) that they are thinking about their counter argument while the other side is speaking, rather than truly listening to the position being stated by the other side. Once you have fully heard the speaker, you might realize that they want the same goal (ie a good school system) they just need someone to respond to their stated concerns.
Rule 3. – Do Not Interrupt
You cannot be listening if you are speaking at the same time. If you interrupt during a conversation, once again, it is a sign of disrespect. You are saying to the speaker, “I am more important that you are”. “I know more than you know and can say it better”. You should always let the speaker naturally finish their thought and then follow it up with a thoughtful question or make a point to illustrate that you understand what they are saying. Don’t worry, if you ask someone a follow up question regarding their position, is not sending up a white flag of defeat, it is simply confirming to them that you listening and interested. You are actually taking control or directing the conversation by being an active and thoughtful participant in it.
Rule 4. – Do Not Immediately Disagree with the Speaker
If you immediately respond to the person speaking with a counterargument or positon, you will unintentionally put the other party on the defensive. It is only natural that if a person disagrees with your position, you with then immediately want to “defend” it. Conversely, if you actively listen to an opposing position and then ask meaningful questions about it, you have provided the other party with an opportunity to consider other options without telling them that they are wrong. In our school district example, a listener might state, “I agree, the Lakota School District is ranked very well Statewide, do you know happen to know what the student/teacher ratio is?” By asking this question, you have put the speaker at ease, confirmed you are listening, and then asked them for more information regarding a topic that may cause them to consider another school district which may have a lower teacher student ratio.