One of the most underrated (and sadly, undervalued) things in our society is the art of listening. No, not just listening….the art of paying attention. What does this mean?
Truly listening to someone implies
An excellent article on good listening practices can be found here.
One other crucial factor in being an effective listener and communicator is giving people the benefit of the doubt. Read that again, please.
What do I mean?
How many times have you encountered a situation where you know part of the story. What does your brain usually do? It fills in the blanks with assumptions. While this is useful and necessary at times, it really harms our relationships with others at other times. Think about it: Someone we think is a reliable source tells us that one of our friends has said something bad about us. For some of us, we immediately feel hurt.
What just happened? We heard something, second-hand, and made an assumption that this is what actually happened. Ask yourself: can I give my friend the benefit of the doubt until I can tell them what I’ve heard and ask them for their side of the story? Or should I assume that my friend has backstabbed me and be hurt? It’s your choice, but please make this a conscious choice.
As a mental health counselor, and especially as a couples counselor, I have seen so much pain and hurt in relationships caused by people making negative assumptions based on partial information. I’ve done myself, many times. I only hope I’ve gotten better at giving people the benefit of the doubt as I’ve lived and learned from experience.
Giving others the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean being blind or naive. It simply means you realize that you don’t know the whole story, and you aren’t going to jump to negative conclusions without having the full story. Try to find out the missing pieces to the situation, then come to a conclusion, whatever that may be. When in doubt, ask for more information. Active Listening is a great tool in this situation. Say to the person “here is what I have heard; tell me your side of the story please”. Or perhaps, “Help me understand what you are saying/doing”. Or, “I’m confused….help me understand where you are coming from…”
Our body language, eye contact, breathing, sighs, and hand gestures will all play a part in communicating our message. Therefore, IF these things are in synch with our words, they will reinforce the message to the speaker that we are concerned about what they have to say. If however, your non-verbal body language does not indicate interest, then you will undermine your intended message. Make sense? Here is a visual to reinforce the point:
Catch my drift? Enough said.
....and quite possible the most neglected aspect!!
It makes sense that effective communication follows from paying attention. Once we’ve paid good attention, we are in a position to
As we wrap up this important topic, it’s important to emphasize the following as fundamentally important to our being effective communicators (in other words, really paying attention!).
One final note: If this is a topic of particular interest to you (and if you’ve gotten this far, I assume it is), I’d strongly recommend the book entitled Be Quiet Be Heard by Susan and Peter Glaser. I had the good fortune of attending one of their workshops 10 years ago and have read the book. It is truly a worthwhile read, and if you apply their tips and approach, your communication skills will benefit greatly!