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The cornerstones of a successful life are the relationships we build. Successful relationships are based on effective communication … and listening is the "bedrock" of communication. Therefore, one could say that the quality/success of the life we live is most impacted by how well we listen! Nothing will convey your appreciation of and love for another person better than taking the time and making the effort to listen to and understand them. A case study was made at a well-known university comparing the effects of listening on a number of students with problems: half visiting a psychiatrist, the other half visiting one of the professors on campus who would just listen. The results showed that visiting a professor who listened with interest was about as effective, and in some cases even more so, than seeing a professional psychiatrist!

Effective listening is truly a skill … a multi-faceted skill consisting of using not only your ears, but also your eyes and heart. Let’s explore each to see how they add to and compliment each other.

With our ears we can not only hear the words spoken but also HOW those words are spoken. Obviously, the words themselves convey what is on the person’s mind; however, the way those words are spoken can shed further light on the true meaning behind those words. To illustrate, speak the words, "I love you" four times, emphasizing different words in the sentence (i.e. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you?) Notice how just emphasizing a different word in the same sentence can entirely change the meaning of that sentence! To "catch" the message the person is attempting to convey, our minds must not be preoccupied, but totally focused on understanding what is being communicated. ("Listening is wanting to hear." --Jim Cathcart)

In his book, Listening for Success,* Steve Shapiro shares two listening models. The first is very simple and basic – Ask! Listen! We ask pertinent questions, then listen to the answers! People LIKE to talk about themselves … their background, interests, joys, sorrows, problems, dreams, goals … but only with someone who shows enough interest to (1) ask, then (2) listen. Then there’s the even more effective/thorough Multi-Level Listening model – Attend, Acknowledge, Clarify, and Respond. Attend means to pay attention, keeping our minds focused on what is being said (and how it is being said). To acknowledge is to let the other person know we are getting their message. This can be done in various ways – pausing, nodding, and/or verbal affirmations such as "I see," "Oh," "Ahh," etc. "It doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with them. It does mean we are attempting to understand them." To clarify is essentially to repeat back in our own words what they’ve said, thereby allowing them to verify our understanding. Clarifying can also include asking open ended questions (ie requiring more than just a "Yes" or "No" response) to better see things from the their point of view. If you’ve taken these first three steps, then an effective/appropriate response becomes easy. We can suggest solutions, options, resources, etc. "Realize that you don’t always need to have an answer." So often, the answer a person is looking for lies within themselves! Our listening may be just what they needed to "forage" through their thoughts to find that answer.

To listen with our eyes is to pay attention to body language.** People often communicate more through the use of their arms, hands, legs, and facial expressions than with their words! They function almost like "truth detectors," revealing "hidden" intentions/motives. From author/lecturer John Mole# – "There are two basic groups of body language postures: OPEN/CLOSED and FORWARD/BACK. OPEN/CLOSED is the most obvious. People with arms folded and legs crossed and bodies turned away are signaling that they are rejecting messages. People showing open hands, fully facing you and both feet planted on the ground are accepting them. FORWARD/BACK indicates whether people are actively or passively reacting to communication. When they are leaning forward and pointing towards you they are actively accepting or rejecting the message. When they are leaning back, looking up at the ceiling, doodling on a pad, cleaning their glasses they are either passively absorbing or ignoring it. The posture groups combine to create four basic modes: responsive, reflective, combative and fugitive. In responsive mode, OPEN/FORWARD the person is actively accepting. In reflective mode, OPEN/BACK, people are interested and receptive but not actively accepting. In fugitive mode, CLOSED/BACK, people are trying to escape physically through the door or mentally into boredom. Finally, in combative mode, CLOSED/FORWARD, there is active resistance." It is said that the eyes are "windows to the soul." Ever tried to talk with a person who is wearing dark or mirrored sunglasses? You just don’t feel you can "connect" with that person … because you can’t see their eyes! As you look into a person’s eyes, one thing you can do is note how dilated their pupils are – dilated pupils indicate the person is interested and involved in what you are sharing with them or what they are with you (or it could indicte drug use).

Listening with your heart is putting yourself in their "shoes," imagining what it would be like to experience what they are/have been going through. Another word for this is empathy.

(Also read – "The Small Talk of Networking")

"... a person will permit himself to be known when he believes his audience is a man of goodwill. Self-disclosure follows an attitude of love and trust. If I love someone, not only do I strive to know him; I also display my love by letting him know me. At the same time, by so doing, I permit him to love me." (Sidney M. Jourard, The Transparent Self)

Listening, then responding with appropriate words/actions, is the best way to build the other person's self-esteem. So true is the saying: "I like you because of the way I feel about myself when I am with you."

* for a copy of this excellent book, go to his website:www.steveshapiro.com
** A couple good books covering this topic are Teach Yourself Body Language (by Gordon Wainwright) and Reading People (by Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, Ph.D, and Mark Mazzarella) … there are others.
# www.johnmole.com (see Communication & Leadership)

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