I’ve been evaluating my verbal communication style lately. What I think I’m saying seems to get lost between my mouth and the other person’s ears.
In most cases, I’m confident the person can hear me, but the breakdown comes at the retention or comprehension level.
Am I saying too many words and thus causing an overwhelming flow of information?
Am I not clear with what I’m attempting to explain?
Am I choosing an inconvenient time for the other person, which likely means he or she is distracted and not able to listen?
I’ve been on the other side before and know how timing truly can make a difference.
Too fatigued to process
Sometimes our mind space is stuffed beyond capacity. Other times we are basically too fatigued to process information.
If we are juggling several projects, deadline items or complex life situations, then it’s difficult to add anything else to the mental gymnastics taking place beneath the surface.
The more I’m observing, the more I’m learning about the giveaways to someone not fully listening. For instance, a glazed look in someone’s eyes, an over eager and repetitive response such as “yes, yes, uh huh, yes, uh huh, right, gotcha, OK” or a faraway look underneath a crinkled brow all likely mean the person’s mind is elsewhere.
However, instead of being frustrated, I’m seeking ways to help both when I’m the one sharing and the one listening.
10 tips for better listening
- Be honest with the other person if you can’t comprehend what is being shared at the moment. Suggest a better time to talk so you can provide your full attention and absorb the details.
- Be selective in choosing the timing to share. Rather than walking up or calling and jumping straight into what you want to share, consider working out a time to talk that’s convenient for all parties involved. Of course, this doesn’t count when the information to share is a form of breaking news where you are excited to share or need comfort and/or help because of learning something tragic. In those cases, we should always just go for it.
- Give your full attention to the discussion. Even if you are able to do something else while listening, the split focus sends a message that you aren’t fully engaged.
- An exception to No. 3 is if you are only able to truly focus on what is being said when you are doing something else at the same time — driving while the passenger shares, walking together for exercise while having a conversation, sketching as a presentation is made, etc.
- Ensure everyone is following the same thought patterns and understandings. Words and phrases mean different things to different people.
- Listen to the full story before mentally checking out of the conversation to process how this impacts your world and make your personal to-do list. You might miss vital aspects of the information if you aren’t listening to all the details.
- Explain the overall point of the conversation before diving into a chronological detailing of where you are headed. That will help the listener anticipate why he or she needs to follow along and will help the listener stick with you longer.
- Ask clarifying questions — determining when to ask questions depends on whether you can write them down and go through them once the information has been shared or if it’s better to ask immediately because you know you won’t be able to concentrate without having that question answered.
- Summarize next steps anticipated to make sure everyone understands the expectations.
- Send friendly reminders along the way. You might resurface an email for your colleague after a few days, text an update that includes the list of other items pending or touch base on the phone or in person about a specific item related to the upcoming activity or event.
Why should we care?
First, listening is a sign of respect for the other person.
Second, the time and energy saved has countless benefits.
Third, the reduction in misunderstandings truly could influence all of our lives in such a positive way that the trickle-down effect provides peaceful homes, a calmer culture and extensive opportunities to share the gospel.