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Cross Training for Active Listeners

March 3, 2016

Engaged, active listening has far-reaching effects:

active listeningstrengthening relationships, easing conflict, boosting accuracy, stimulating creativity, improving negotiations, reducing false starts … the list goes on.

But this level of listening takes energy, practice and discipline. The good news is that you can up your game by regularly exercising several core practices:

Strengthen your focus, one rep at a time.

There’s a hidden benefit to resisting temptations to multi-task or form your reply while others speak. When your attention drifts, you get to catch yourself and return it to the speaker. Each time you do so strengthens the reflex to stay focused.

Stretch your awareness.

Deepen your listening by consciously attending to a broader range of signals:

  • Noticing patterns and assumptions.
  • Observing shifts in tone, energy or demeanor.
  • Listening for ideas, not just words.
  • Considering what’s not being said.
  • Discerning values.
  • Picturing what the person is saying.
  • Listening for possibility.

Do resistance training.

We all listen through a lens of biases, needs and assumptions. When these are challenged, it’s tempting to resist the message and the messenger. When it gets harder to remain open-minded, remind yourself that understanding isn’t the same as agreeing.

Watch the breath.

When someone starts a sentence, let them finish. Give the conversation breathing room. Taking a beat now and then allows the speaker to gather their thoughts and allows you to digest what’s been expressed. This is especially helpful when tensions rise.

Check your form.

When you move with good form you work together as a unit, rather than a collection of parts. Before offering your input, succinctly describe the speaker’s key points. Ask them to clarify anything that’s not on point. This shows your desire to understand and helps the speaker step back and consider their own thinking.

Keep up the cardio.

Active listening is a long term pursuit with even longer term benefits. But cross training these practices over time will help you get to the heart of what’s important to hear.

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