Keys To Stress Mastery: Are You A Good Listener?

by Doc Orman, M.D.

NOTE: This six-part series of consecutive blog posts contains excerpts from a newsletter article I wrote and published back in January, 1995 titled: “7 Keys To Listening That Will Win You Friends, Improve Your Marriage, Boost Your Profits, And Make People Follow You Anywhere!”

For the next two weeks, in order to help you advance your stress mastery skills, I’ve chosen the topic of listening to explore with you.

I know you’ve probably heard about all the benefits of being a good listener already.  Psychologists, relationship counselors, and other communication experts constantly talk about them. Being a good listener can win you friends, improve your marriage, boost your business profits or advance your career.  It can make people feel so good about being with you that they’ll literally follow you anywhere.

You’d think that with all the practice we get, and with all the attention listening skills have received, we’d all be pretty good at it.  But most of us aren’t.  We’re not very good listeners much of the time.  It’s not because we’re lazy, or stupid, or anything like that.  It’s just that we all struggle with listening because…..

Listening…is not a simple skill!

Contrary to popular belief, listening is an incredibly complex skill to master.  There’s a great deal going on that doesn’t meet the eye.

So, even though our marriages and friendships depend very heavily upon good listening skills, and even though our customers, clients, and co-workers demand this from us constantly, most advice we receive about improving our listening abilities isn’t all that helpful.

That’s because most advice we receive focuses on just the technical aspects of good listening, such as giving feedback, making eye contact, asking open-ended questions, and not interrupting others while others are speaking. These techniques are all fine and good….but they don’t really get to the heart and soul of listening. And they don’t usually empower us to become better listeners.

7 Keys To Better Listening

In this series of six consecutive blog posts, I’m going to cover seven key aspects of listening that deserve closer attention.  While I can’t promise that understanding all seven of these keys will automatically make you a better listener, I can tell you that ignoring them or not paying attention to them can often lead to trouble.

KEY #1:  Listening Is Not A Passive Activity!

Passive listening

Listening is anything but a passive, neutral activity.  While it may appear this way, many active processes are taking place within the listener–if they’re listening well, that is.

You see, listening is not just hearing the words people utter.  If that’s all there was to it, we could train computers to do the job. But listening to human beings involves much, much more (which computers will never, ever be able to do).  It involves not just accurately hearing what people say, but getting a sense of who they are, how they view life, what they want to accomplish, what concerns they have, what they’re afraid of, how they’re feeling, what they want from you, and more.  It even involves “listening” to what people aren’t directly saying, or what they might be too reluctant to say, or what they definitely don’t want you to know in response to their communications. Show me a computer that can do all that! 

Thus, in order to become a very good listener, we can’t just attend to the words people say.  We’ve got to pay attention to many other details and many other dimensions that don’t meet the eye, but that are crucial nonetheless. This is why it’s  difficult to recognize what good listeners do that makes them successful—it’s all going on invisibly inside their heads and in the rest of their body.

KEY #2:  Listen For Unspoken Fears/Concerns/Moods/Aspirations

When people speak, they always reveal their deepest thoughts, ambitions, and concerns.

Most of the time, neither the speaker nor the listener pick up on these subtle, underlying issues…but they are always there.

Good listeners, on the other hand, frequently attend to these unspoken emotions and concerns.  And when they “hear” them and empathize with them (either verbally or nonverbally) the speaker often remarks “Boy, you really know how I feel” or “Gee, you really understand exactly what’s going on within me.”

Here’s an example: A successful female corporate executive goes to a stress counsellor because she’s feeling increasingly tense, irritable, and anxious on her job.  In her first meeting with this new counselor, she clearly describes numerous problems with her job, her boss and her co-workers. But as the trained counselor listens to her carefully, he also “hears” the following unspoken concerns…”Am I going to lose control and embarrass myself in front of my co-workers?”…”Am I going to look incompetent or not as strong as my male counterparts?”… “Am I going to go home and start taking out my frustrations on my kids and my husband?”

And the amazing thing about human communication is that she never said any of these things! But a good listener can pick up on such unspoken concerns, have strong suspicions that they are there, and then confirm or disconfirm them later on.  And most of the time, they will have interpreted these unspoken concerns correctly.

How do you know when you’re right about such hunches?  Sometimes you just know intuitively. Sometimes, you can tactfully check out your assumptions by probing with a compassionate question or two, or by restating your hunch for the speaker to respond to.  Most of the time, however, your intuition will be right on.  Which brings me to the next important key to good listening….(continued in my next post).

Note: For a full list of all of my Kindle books about stress, click on this link: http://ormanstressrelief.com/kindlebooks

 

 

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