Disclaimer. You're probably reading this because you want to be heard, and I'm going to talk about how to listen. Because that's how to be heard. Become a good listener.
The three primary ingredients of conversation are: Inquiry, Acknowledgment, and Advocacy.
- Inquiry is about learning, curiosity, and doing your best to understand how something looks to someone else.
- Acknowledgement is letting that someone know you've heard them.
- Advocacy is inviting them to hear you.
If advocating is all you do, you will have few listeners. They'll get tired or bored. If, on the other hand, you are a skilled listener, people will flock to you. And they will listen back.
5 Skills for Becoming a Good Listener
These are mine. I'd love to hear yours.
Be there. Be tranquil. There is no need to be anywhere else. As Brenda Ueland writes in her magical 1992 article from the San Jose Mercury News: Say to yourself: “Now. What is happening now? This friend is talking. I am quiet. There is endless time. I hear it, every word.”
Make eye contact. Listen for what is not being said. When thoughts stray (I wonder what's for dinner?), bring them back to the speaker.
Stand or sit next to the speaker without tables or barriers between you. Aim for side by side. If a table is necessary, make it a round one. Or sit caddy-corner to the speaker.
#3) Be Curious
When I asked a coaching client what it would take to pose a question in a tone that sounded like he really wanted to explore rather than judge, he said: "I'd actually have to BE curious. "We had a good laugh realizing the obvious. And... Yes. That's it. You actually have to BE curious. It's a powerful state of mind.
#4) Ask Questions Like This
- Can you tell me your thinking on this issue?
- If you could have your way in this, what would that look like?
- What else can you tell me about the problem?
- What's the ideal solution as you see it?
- Can you give me three or four ideas that would work for you?
- How do you think we should proceed?
What's important is that:
- You ask sincere questions that you don't know the answer to.
- You help the speaker reflect on his/her thinking.
- You proceed as if you're attempting to solve a puzzle.
#5) Acknowledge and Clarify Like This
- What I hear you saying is (.....).
- That sounds important. Can you say more about why you think that?
- What specifically would you like me to do differently?
- Can you describe what I do or say that makes me appear aggressive (passive, not interested, angry, etc.)?
- Which part of the project are you concerned about?
- From what you say about (.....), you are hoping for (.....).
- Thank you for this information.
- I appreciate your thinking on this.
- Is there anything else?
Acknowledging is simply repeating back to the speaker what you just heard and asking clarifying questions. It's only hard because we subconsciously equate acknowledgment with agreement. They are different. Listening and acknowledging what you hear are not the same as agreeing with what you hear.
That's right: Listening and acknowledgement ≠ agreement.
Advocacy and The Art of Persuasion: 3 Tips for Being Heard
#1) State your view of the situation with something like:
- I feel differently (if you do).
- From my point of view, here's what I think would be useful....
- I agree with (.....). I also think it's important to consider (.....), if we're going to have a lasting solution.
- When you said (.....), it made me think of (.....). I think it would be useful to explore this area more thoroughly because ....
Help clarify your position without minimizing your partner's. Include your partner's words wherever possible. Example: I hear you strongly advocating for extra sick-leave in your contract, and I would love to be able to accommodate. I can't at this point because of monetary limits. However, can we revisit this topic in 12 months. Would that work for you?
You can find more examples of Advocacy language in my "Step-By-Step Checklist" article for difficult conversations and in "Being Heard: 6 Strategies for Getting Your Point Across."
#3) Avoid Selling or Telling
The most useful strategy for being heard is to educate. Help your partner see what you're seeing. And since you have listened so well, your advocacy will be different. You'll address areas of agreement as well as places where you differ. You will go back to Inquiry occasionally as you test solutions (What do you think? Could my theory work?). And you'll be more solution-oriented.
Opening the Door
You can't make someone hear you. The funny thing is, when you push for your way, you virtually guarantee failure. When you open the door for someone else, however, they almost always hold it open for you.
Please suggest tips, advice, and other noteworthy articles on this topic.