Approach the listening experience from a state of being centered
To be centered (state management) is to be completely calm at a very deep level, to be without agendas or predispositions as to the outcome, and to be open to the experience. Centeredness is a prerequisite to truly open listening. It sets the stage for the points below.
Never rule out any topic of discussion as uninteresting
Creative people are always on the lookout for new information.
While some conversations may be completely inane, its wise to make sure the subject is not worthwhile before tuning out completely.
Accept the speaker's message
On the face of it, this would seem to be an argument for gullibility or for believing almost anything anyone tells you. It's not. The point here is to withhold judgment during the immediate experience of listening. In accepting "as is", you're not making a determination as to the truth or falsity of the statement, you're simply acknowledging exactly what the speaker is saying right or wrong, good or bad, true or false. This capacity for total acceptance frees the mind to listen for other clues.
Listen for the whole message
One estimate has it that 92% of all communication is non-verbal. If you take away the words, what's left? We know that 70% is physiology, 22% is pace and tone and only 8% are the words. Beyond the words themselves is a host of clues as to what the speaker is communicating.
Examples include: posture (rigid or relaxed, closed or open); facial expression (does it support the words?), hands clenched, open relaxed, tense?), eyes (does the speaker maintain eye contact?), voice tone (does it match the words?), movement (are the speaker's movements intense, relaxed, congruent or conflicting? Look for inconsistencies between what is said and what is really meant.
Don't get hung up on the speaker's delivery
There are factors that simply reveal awkwardness in delivery rather than any attempt to mislead. The key is being able to distinguish between the two. It's easy to get turned off when someone speaks haltingly, has an irritating voice, or just doesn't come across well. The key go good listening is to get beyond the manner of delivery to the underlying message. It's amazing how much more clearly you can hear once you've made the decision to really listen rather than to criticize.
Avoid structured listening
It's popular among some communications teachers to recommend a format for listening, either in the form of questions (What is the speaker's main point? What is he/she really saying?) or key words (e.g. purpose, evidence, intent). The problem with this approach is that it creates a dialogue of noise in the listener's mind which interferes with clear reception. Better to operate from the openness of the centered state (above) and receive the information just as it comes, without any attempt to structure or judge it.
Tune out distractions
Poor listeners are distracted by interruptions; good listeners tune them out and focus on the speaker and the message. It's a discipline that lends itself to specific techniques for maintaining one's focus. Here are some things that will help: Maintain eye contact with the speaker; lean forward in your chair; let the speaker's words ring in your ears; and turn in our chair, if necessary, to block out unwanted distractions.
Be alert to your own prejudices
This goes along with #3 above, but it's so important that you may want to think specifically about the impact of your prejudices on your ability to really hear what's being communicated. Often, we are unaware of how strong our prejudices influence our willingness and ability to hear. The fact is: any prejudice, valid or not, tends to obscure the message.
When we hear someone saying something with which we strongly disagree, we immediately begin mentally formulating a rebuttal, right? Our natural tendency to resist any new information that conflicts with what we believe automatically creates the need to rebut. Keep in mind: you can rebut later, when you've heard the whole message and had time to think about it.
Take Notes Sparingly
The world seems to be split between those who take prolific notes and those who take few or none with each side equally strong in its position. The more focused you are on writing down what is being said; the more likely you are to miss the nuances of the conversation. This does NOT mean you shouldn't take notes!
There are two good ways around this dilemma. You can write down only key words and then after the conversation, consult, etc., go back and fill in, or you can take a note pictorially by diagramming what the speaker is saying.
Either way, hearing is merely the acknowledgment of sound, while listening has a completely different connotation!
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