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8 Ways Your Listening Skills are Sabotaging Your Relationships

quote from Listen Up or Lose Out

Like most people at work and in their personal lives, you probably spend many hours a day conversing with others informally or in meetings, face-to-face interactions, telephone calls, and so forth. These conversations can either strengthen or weaken work and other interpersonal relationships, including ties to friends and loved ones.

Listening lies at the heart of just about everything we do with people. The average person spends about 50 percent more time listening than speaking. In fact, the typical person listens about a book’s worth a day.

The cost of ineffective listening is most clear in your relationships. Poor work relationships can be disastrous to one’s career, while strong work relationships boost one’s career.

If you want to practice your listening skills so you can build strong relationships at work and at home, take note of the following do’s and don’ts of great listening from Listen Up or Lose Out by Robert Bolton:

8 Do’s & Don’ts of Great Listening SKILLS

Don’t ignore trouble spots in the talking-listening process. Trouble spots in the talking–listening process make it vulnerable to miscommunication. Language is imprecise. Talking conveys only an approximation of what we mean. Any miscommunication can likely be traced four common impediments:

  1. People often assume they perceive a situation objectively when, in fact, they often are reacting to it and thus may misunderstand it and speak inaccurately about it.

  2. To speak meaningfully to another person, you must translate your thoughts and/or feelings into words—a process called encoding.

  3. We ad-lib our way through most conversations, so when we talk, we’re usually winging it.

  4. It can be challenging to read the nonverbals of whoever is speaking to you.

Listening is educated guesswork. And we’re seldom aware that miscommunication has occurred until faced with the resulting damage.

✔️ Do identify your listening missteps. People often turn what should be a listening situation into a speaking situation. And when they reply instead of listening, they often use one of 6 common communication missteps: disagreeing/agreeing, criticizing, questioning, advising, reassuring, or diverting. Your ability to recognize your one or two most often used listening missteps is an important first step toward eliminating those that you over-rely on and thereby greatly improving your listening.

✔️ Do reduce major missteps. Once you know your listening missteps, you must practice replacing the misstep with good listening. It’s important to identify and decrease your reliance on missteps that have been damaging your listening effectiveness. But be kind to yourself as you practice because ridding yourself of a given misstep will often take four stages.

First, you’ll notice your misstep after it has already occurred. Then, you’ll realize it as the words come out of your mouth. Next, you’ll reach an understanding of your misstep that allows you to consciously refrain from uttering it. Finally, you’ll be free of the misstep as you’ve created a habit of much better listening!

✔️ Do practice Skill-Based Listening. Right now, you probably engage in ordinary listening. Great listeners practice skill-based listening, which means they use a set of skills to accurately understand the speaker’s thoughts and feelings from the speaker’s point of view and restate the essence of the speaker’s message until the speaker has fully expressed the point he or she is making. (Whew, we’re out of breath...develop these skills by reading Listen Up or Lose Out)

Don’t forget to wait your turn. Knowing when to listen and when to speak is central to making your interactions more focused and productive. Use the communication skill selection question, which you can use to guide you into making good decisions about when to listen and when to speak. At the beginning of each conversation (and at key junctures during the interaction), ask yourself the communication skill selection question: “Whose need to talk is greater?” When the other person has the greater need to talk, you listen.

✔️ Do focus your attention. Good listeners focus their undivided attention on the speaker—giving him their full postural alignment, mental concentration, and emotional responsiveness. This skill, known as attending, is the body language of listening. Also use the companion skill of using encouragers—one- to three-word statements or empathic sounds like “Mm-hmm” that enable a listener to participate audibly in the conversation without distracting or interrupting the speaker.

Don’t neglect your ability to ask questions. Asking well-targeted questions can be immensely important in one’s business as well as personal life. Robert and Dorothy Bolton share five guidelines for the process of asking questions productively in Listen Up or Lose Out.

✔️ Do create and sequence productive questions. It’s not enough to know how to answer well-targeted questions. You must also sequence your questions productively. How you phrase a question can have a significant impact on the usefulness of the responses you get.

Next Steps

Now that you know the do’s and don’ts of great listening, it’s time to get strategic. Create a plan for how you’ll practice your listening skills with your coworkers, boss, family, and friends.

Use Listen Up or Lose Out as a guide and let us know how your relationships improve by working on this one, simple skill in the comments!

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Robert Bolton

ROBERT BOLTON, PH.D., is known for his expertise in training trainers. He is a cofounder of Ridge Associates, a training and consulting firm that serves many Fortune 500 companies, and the author of several books.

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