The Art of Listening, Part 2
Being a good listener is an art form. It takes knowing a set of skills and a lot of practice to become a master listener. In The Art of Listening, Part 1, I discussed some lessons that we can learn from our four-legged friends on being a good listener. These included listening without criticism and judgement, making the speaker feel heard and understood, and not trying to fix or manage the speaker's problem. So, if you've mastered the techniques discussed in the first article, let's talk about some advanced listening techniques.
LISTENING FOR THE METAMESSAGE
The first technique is to listen for the metamessage, or read between the lines. To listen for the deeper message, pay attention to the speaker's tone of voice and emotions being expressed, not just the words being used. This also involves paying attention to symbolic language such as the use of similes and metaphors. As you reflect back what the speaker's said, convey an understanding of the metamessage being sent. For example, if the speaker says, “Working this job is like being buried alive,” the listener may say, “Wow, sounds like you really feel trapped. Is that right?”
BEING OK WITH EMOTIONS
Another advanced listening technique is to be able to listen to strong emotions, such as anger, sadness, or fear, without taking them personally. When we sense feelings that we aren’t comfortable with, we often try to change them or fix them. Don’t be afraid of strong emotions, even if they are about you. Instead of trying to change the speaker’s uncomfortable emotions, try to understand what caused them and what those emotions mean to the speaker. Asking open-ended questions is a great way to increase understanding.
Here are some examples of questions to help the listener explore strong emotions and situations:
What about this situation makes you feel angry (sad, afraid, upset, etc.)?
What are your concerns?
What would have to happen for you to feel differently?
What about this situation is important to you?
What would you like to have happen in this situation?
What can I do to be helpful to you
Listening is a powerful tool that can be used to enhance any relationship, deepen connection, and repair misunderstandings. Once you've mastered these techniques, you are well on your way to becoming a master listener.