This Year of Listening guest blog post is from Rosanne Cubitt, Head of Professional Practice, Relationships Scotland
Are you listening to me?
How often do we say this to our partners or our children? And how often do we think this with friends and colleagues? How do we know if we are really being heard? What makes us think someone is really listening?
Communication is not just about speaking! Listening, with the genuine intention of seeking understanding, is a key component of effective communication. So how do we go about listening well?
The words that people use are only one part of the message – there’s their tone and their body language, and these add significantly to the meaning and intent of what people are saying. We also have a tendency to put our own interpretation on what people are saying, and think we know what they mean, sometimes before they have even finished speaking. Only by concentrating and seeking to understand can we really say we are listening well and truly hearing what the other person has to say.
The following steps are a good reminder to help us all with our listening skills:
1. Pay attention – focus on the person you are listening to, give them your full attention and make sure you are not distracted by what is going on around you. Keep your mind on what the other person is saying, and don’t let it wander off on to other things, such as what else you would rather be doing.
2. Make it clear that you are listening – remember the magic of the odd ‘um’, eye contact and a nod! Your body language is as important as theirs. You want to give them a clear message that you are listening so look at them, lean forward, appear to be interested. Although you want to minimise what you are saying, when you are listening, the odd ‘um’ or ‘I see’ can demonstrate that your mind is still on task!
3. Reflect back – after a while it can be helpful to repeat back to the other person what you think they have just said. Rather than literally repeating the words, if you paraphrase it, you demonstrate understanding and allow them to correct you. You could start with ‘so what I think you are saying is.....’ or ‘let me check, you are saying that....’. Another technique is to summarise what you think they have said so far.
4. Ask questions - to clarify points and to extend the conversation. An example is ‘what do you mean by...?’ This demonstrates an active interest and develops understanding. It might be tempting to jump in with answers or possible solutions, but it is better to wait for the right time to explore these, after the person has felt listened to.
5. Remember it’s about them not you - avoid talking about yourself or your own experiences or those of other people you know. You might feel more comfortable responding with stories of similar situations that you know of, than asking questions or reflecting back what you have heard, but when you are listening your focus is on the other person and what they are saying not what you think or know about already.
Listening is a key communication skill in all relationships – whether at work or at home. When communication breaks down, relationships come under strain. Relationships Scotland supports people to overcome issues in couple and family relationships and communication particularly. If you want to find out more about our service for parents who are divorcing, separating or living apart that helps people to communicate more effectively go to www.parentingapart.org.uk, or for general support with relationships go to Relationships Scotland.