Monday, November 9, 2015

Don’t Speak: The Essential Skill of Intuitive Listening

If you want to be heard, first you must listen. While this piece of advice might seem counterintuitive, it may be the most valuable skill to perfect. When fully developed, intuitive listening skills, will allow you to communicate in a way to bring about a win/win result. By intuitively listening to what the speaker really means, you are better capable of meeting their needs of being recognized and understood. In turn, it is much more likely you will be able to get the speaker to comport their behavior in a way that satisfies your needs whatever they may be. You’ve heard it said that some people are so good at the art of persuasion they can sell a mirror to a blind man. Well that level of persuasion comes not so much from speaking as it comes from employing superbly honed intuitive listening skills. A highly persuasive person instinctively knows how to identify needs, and illicit the perception that those needs are being met.

Intuitive listening involves being able to discern what is being communicated through a perception of meaning derived from words, context, countenance and actions rather than through words alone. Attempting to communicate without first understanding the true meaning being conveyed by the speaker can often result in a volley of statements and responses which serve no purpose in bringing about any form of mutually beneficial results. In fact, failing to listen intuitively caries the risk of escalating the conversation to the point of spiraling out of control, setting back the accomplishment of meeting mutual needs and causing irreversible damage to the relationship. It is true, you won’t get what you want, until you listen to what they need.

In order to listen intuitively, you must develop an instinct to see more and hear more than what is being overtly said. To do this, you must remove the distraction of your own speaking. Most likely you have heard that a good listener will do several things including maintaining eye contact, limiting environmental distractions, and conveying interest with the occasional nod or similar gesture. While these are necessary elements of active listening and valuable skills to have, the art of thoughtful silence is the most important attribute for an intuitive listener to develop. When you speak, you are less capable of truly listening. It takes energy and concentration to formulate your own thoughts and this deprives you of the ability to dedicate all of your senses to the speaker. While silently watching and listening to the speaker, you are able to take in and analyze a plethora of information. Of course, a productive conversation requires a dialogue, so at some point of course you must speak. Do so however only after you have taken in and analyzed the following clues to meaning.

Presentation Style of the Speaker
Everyone has a particular way of communicating which is an outward representation of various factors including personality, culture, and education level. Understanding one’s presentation style helps to reduce tension that could arise when the speaker’s choice of words or mannerisms might be different than those to which you are accustomed.

Emotional Context
We are all emotional creatures and regardless of the topic of conversation, emotions are involved. Whether these emotions are positive or negative, it is important to perceive what they are. If a particularly negative emotion is being exhibited, try to discern why. Never make the mistake of internalizing the emotions of another person. The anger or hostility the speaker may seem to be directing toward you may actually have its roots in situations or problems that exists outside of the current conversation, and probably have nothing to do with you personally. Recognizing emotions and giving them the proper context is the first step in managing them so the goals of the conversation are not lost.

Look at the speaker and take in all that you are sensing about their appearance. Facial expressions, posture and non-verbal gestures speak very loudly. Sometimes they completely contradict the words that are being said. Do not overlook this incongruity.

Body Positioning
Where is the speaker sitting or standing? Are they uncomfortably close? Do they demand that you sit while they remain standing? There is psychological power involved in proximity. Have you ever wondered why a Judge’s bench is at a higher level than any seat in the courtroom? When the speaker positions themselves above you they are saying, “I have more power than you.” When they invade your personal space, they are letting you know they have control over you. When they fail to face you fully or maintain eye contact, they convey that you are not very important to them. Understanding these cues and responding accordingly will help you maintain your control and power.

Tone and Intonation
Sometimes it’s not what they say, but how they say it. Usually a person’s tone is a dead giveaway to what they really mean. Sometimes the tone of a remark is very pronounced and an obvious way of using sarcasm or humor. In this case, the meaning is clear, however there are subtle tonal cues that aren’t so obvious. In these instances, a good sensitive ear is critical in order to find the true meaning in the words.

The same words have different meaning to different people depending on culture, environment, age, education and other factors. If you are initially offended or otherwise taken off guard by a speaker’s vernacular, first consider the entirety of the conversation and put the term in context. Your understanding of the meaning of the term might be different than the understanding of the speaker.

We’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words. If the speaker is saying one thing, but repeatedly doing something else, listen to the actions because they are a more realistic representation of meaning.

Once intuitive listing skills are mastered, the process will actually occur very quickly throughout the conversation. The main focus is to remain calm and observant until a mutually acceptable conclusion results. Don’t be afraid to use your silence as a means to consistently gather non-verbal information. While you are silently and thoughtfully gathering information about the speaker, the speaker is filling up that uncomfortable silence with more information. This will assist you in your further discernment of meaning and give you the opportunity to prepare the appropriate response. When the conversation is over, you will have exchanged meaningful information and obtained mutual understanding, preserving the relationship for the next conversation. Remember, they won’t hear you until you intuitively listen to them.

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