Two Rules to Improve Your Communication

By Bernadette T. Vadurro, CSP

Rule 1

Pay Attention to How You Listen 

We live in a society that applauds multi-tasking; the ability to do several things simultaneously.  Unfortunately, one can rarely listen effectively while engaged in other activities.  Perhaps you have experienced a situation in which you have been talking with a  person who is multi-tasking, i.e., entering data on a computer, talking to another person, writing something down or having a telephone conversation with a third party on the telephone.  What does the multi-taker’s face look like when they are multi-tasking and listening to you at the same time?  Do you notice the blank face, glazed eyes, and detached head nodding? The blank face and glazed eyes are usually accompanied by a series of “a-ha’s” or “I sees” directed your way.  Despite the verbal reassurances, you are quite sure this person hasn’t understood a word you have said.  According to psychologist, Susan Baile, Ph.D., there are four basic modes of listening: pretend, autobiographical,empathetic and reflective.  The first mode of listening called pretend listening is the type of listening described above and isn’t really listening at all.

The second mode of listening is called autobiographical listening.  This type of listening, according to Dr. Baile, is listening to tell your story or listening to hear yourself speak. 

Effective listening and communicating is much like a tennis or volleyball game.  As long as the ball continues moving back and forth between the players, the game is in play.  When the ball goes off the court, the playing stops.  When we engage in pretend listening, the game never really starts and when we engage in autobiographical listening we shoot one-shot balls that immediately bounce off the court.

Rule # 2

Use Empathetic and Reflective Listening Skills

The next two types of listening have the capacity to change relationships.  They are empathetic and reflective listening.  When you are engaged in empathetic listening, you are listening to understand the situation or concern.  You do not engage in judgment nor are you busy thinking about your response.  Instead, you are interested in understanding what the communicator is sharing with you. 

The highest level of listening is called reflective listening. It includes empathetic listening skills as it takes listening to a higher level.  Have you ever been engaged in a conversation in which you shared information with another person and the responses were right on target- so much so that you knew your listener fully understood your message?  Your listener was not only able to understand, but also able to summarize and paraphrase the content of the message back to you with full empathy and understanding.  If you have experienced this phenomenon, chances are you have experienced reflective listening.

One of the primary issues in business is the fact that many of employees have not been trained in the art of listening.  Empathetic and reflective listening requires practice and concentration.  Learning these skills may require breaking old habits such as interrupting and finishing others’ sentences, being easily distracted or mentally arguing with our customers, co-workers, boss or subordinates. So, how can we become better listeners?  A technique shared by communication expert, Debra Sutch, was to observe the eye color of the person with whom you are communicating.  This deep look into their eyes causes you, the listener, to get focused on the individual with whom you are communicating. 

In the American business world direct eye contact says, “I’m listening and interested.”  I highly recommend you to seed thought that “this is the most important person in the world at this moment when communicating with others.”  

Imagine the increased quality of your conversations when you get focused, look for the person’s eye color and think to yourself, “this is the most important person in the world at this moment” as you engage in empathetic and reflective listening.  Everyone who has tried this agrees that this combination dramatically increases the quality of all conversations.