I have to say that one of the most rewarding skill sets that I’ve learned, because it has really contributed to my personal growth, as well as my coaching business was improving my active listening skills. It also has become the greatest gift that I can give to someone else. Now, that phrase itself, might be confusing to people. I know that it was for me at first. Though many people compliment me on being a great “listener”, it was a skill set I had to learn, it was not something that I was born with. Active listening skills refer to the skill of being fully present when you are in a conversation with someone.
Have you ever noticed that you might be sharing something that’s really important to you or you just want to connect with somebody, and as you look at them, you can tell just by the expression on their face that they’re not really paying attention to anything you’re saying? And as you think about a time when that happened to you, how does it make you feel when you can just tell that the person is not “present” with you?
I know that for me, when I would notice this happen, it made me feel like I was not important to them. It made me feel that what I was sharing with them had no meaning. And for some reason that really made me question, “What was I doing when someone was speaking with me? Was I making people feel the same way?” And as I began paying attention, I realized that I was doing exactly the same thing. I would not be present when someone else was speaking to me, and I began to explore why that was, and how to change it. It became important for me to “learn to listen”. I began to shape my active listening skills through several different processes. In time, I learned how to turn off my own brain when I was getting into conversations and actually be fully present with the person I was speaking with.
This was a totally new experience for me. When I was younger, the most important thing in a conversation was that people understood what I was trying to share with them. Meaning that my perspective was the most important thing in a conversation. They had to understand “ME”. And what I learned over time, was that the best way for me to accomplish that, the best way for me to grow myself and the best way for me to nurture a relationship was actually to stop caring about them understanding my point. True communication began when I started using my active listening skills and started caring about me understanding their point of view first.
Have you ever noticed, that often when we are in a conversations we are not paying any attention to what the person is saying? So many times we are just waiting for our turn to talk, or we are so focused on wanting to make sure we get our point across, that we are actually having a conversation with ourselves in our own heads, while the other person is talking to us. And sadly, we’re paying more attention to the conversation we are having with ourselves than we are to the conversation with the other person.
Recently there was a facilitator who did an exercise that I believe really drove this point home about how many people lack active listening skills. The point of the exercise was to bring two people on stage who had totally opposing belief systems regarding a specific topic. The topic this facilitator chose was; Is it ethical to sleep with someone you just met? The one person was very religious in their view points, and the other person was extremely open minded. The instructions were for person “A” to share in two minutes or less, why they believed it was ethically okay to sleep with someone that you just met. Person “B” was not allowed to counter and not allowed to debate. Their instructions were that they were just supposed to listen; and when person “A” was done, person “B” was to repeat back to person “A” the details that would allow person “A” to know that they were understood by person “B”. The outcomes was that person “A” had to feel completely understood.
Now as the facilitator was setting this up, I was sitting there thinking, “Okay, this should take 3, 4, maybe 5 interactions at the most. They’ll tweak it, they’ll get it down to that point after a few tries.”
45 minutes later, person “A” was finally able to say,” Yes, I feel you understand me now”.
I couldn’t believe it. 45 minutes? For understanding somebody’s perspective? To be able to see their point of view? I really had to think about that.
It is amazing how many of us enter into a conversation and we are stuck in what I have learned to call our “model of the world”. What I mean by that is that as a person grows up, each one of us has had different experiences, we grow up with different belief systems… about ourselves, about other people and about how the world operates. Because of these influences, we each have different values, different rules. Our model of the world is based on the environment we grew up in; and this is the filter on how we view everything that goes on around us.
To make this a little easier imagine that when you were born, you had a pair of blue sunglasses that just wrapped completely around your eyes so that everything you saw, you saw through this blue filter. And imagine that another person, when they were born were given a pair of red sunglasses, so that everything they saw came through a red filter. No matter how much you looked at and discussed something that was sitting in front of you, the two of you would never agree on what you were seeing. That is what being stuck in your own model of the world is like if you’re locked in that singular perception.
For me studying active listening skills was a huge shift to not caring that you understand what I am trying to say. Because I was never going to be able to get you to see through my “blue glasses”. Active listening skills are about me taking off my sunglasses, throwing them off to the side, and looking at the world through your sunglasses. That is hard for most people to do. So how do you accomplish seeing things from that other person’s perspective?
Mastering Active Listening is the key to becoming an Elite Coach. You have to be able to truly hear what your clients are saying to you because there are subtle nuances that will lead you to deeper understanding and awareness.
The way to achieve this is to ask questions to gain more specific information about what they are sharing. One of the best ways to build your active listening skills is when someone’s sharing something with you, ask them questions for specificity. It forces you to pay closer attention to what they are saying and pulls you into the moment so you can engage with them. As they are share something, listen closely and find things that peak your interest. Then, when they’re done, please don’t interrupt them, but when they’re done ask them about what peaked your interest. Or simply say something like, “You know, when you were talking about this experience you just had, how did it make you feel?” And let them respond. And after they’ve finished responding, ask more questions to get more details? The idea is to do everything you can to understand their point of view. Ask them questions to elicit information that will allow you to see it from their “model of the world”.
The other thing that is very important if you’re going to improve your active listening skills, is to feed what they have said to you back to them, to make sure that you are seeing it from their perspective. You will be amazed at what you learn about them and yourself in this process if you truly work on your active listening skills. It is also very important that you make sure that you don’t interrupt them in the process; I’m going to explain why in a moment.
Simply be patient and listen. Then when they stop say, “About what you just shared with me, just so I make sure I understand it, you said…” and you repeat the what you perceive as the key points back to them and ask, “Did I understand you correctly?”
Think about it for a moment, if someone did that to you, how would that make you feel? Would you really feel like they cared about what you were sharing? Would you feel that they really cared about you? Would you feel like they were really communicating?
I have to tell you that for me, one of the personal rules that I have that will shut down my desire to communicate is when someone interrupts. It doesn’t make me mad at the person, but what it does is it shuts me down from being open and communicating with them. As you have probably learned from this video series, I am pretty open when it comes what I am willing to share with people. And I am that way face to face also. But the thing that will stop me from exploring a connection with someone, or sharing deeply is when someone interrupts me. Usually I am more of the listener, but if they have asked me a question, and when I’m responding they interrupt me with something that’s not relevant to what we’re just talking about, in that moment, I feel like they really didn’t care what my answer was. So, I’m not rude to them, I just don’t pursue exploring that conversation any farther, I close down; I still listen to what they are sharing, I just don’t share myself with them. Have you ever taken the time to explore how you really feel when someone interrupts you? I think so many of us have gotten used to it that we don’t even register the feeling anymore. But I believe in the long term, interruptions really limit your ability to connect.
I also believe that being present for someone else when they are sharing their thoughts, ideas, hopes and dreams with you is one of the greatest gifts that you can give. And this also relates to when a third party tries to interrupt you.
Have you ever been having a conversation and really working on connecting when all of a sudden a third person walks up and interrupts with something as simple as, “Hey, how you doing?” And in an instant the whole conversation shifts. How does that make you feel? I’m not talking about when it is a light conversation when this happens, but when you are communicating about something important or intimate.
I didn’t even notice that I did this, but people pointed it out to me, and Jerry felt this was important to share in respect to active listening skills. People have shared with me that they really respect what I do when I am engaged in a conversation with someone. If a third person comes up, these people pointed out to me that I actually put my hand up to stop the person who is approaching, and keep my focus locked on the person I am talking to. I never realized that was a part of my actions until several people pointed it out. And when they did, I realized that the reason I did it was that I knew how I felt when people interrupt me. Or when someone allows the attention to be directed out somewhere else.
I believe that communication is how we grow, it’s how we connect. I also believe that one of the most important things that you can do to respect that relationship is to be present in the moment when you are communicating. So to wrap up this episode, I want to give you two exercises to help improve your active listening skills.
The first exercise is when you’re in a conversation with somebody, do everything that you can to be fully present, fully aware. If you start finding that you’re thinking of what your response is going to be, and focusing on what you’re going to say; I challenge you to stretch your comfort zone and actually say to the person you’re talking to, “Excuse me, could you stop for just one second. I apologize. I got distracted. My mind was over in another place and what you’re saying to me is really important. So you could please say it again?” How would that make you feel, if someone did that with you?
The second part of the active listening skills exercise is in your conversations this week, I really would like you to do the best you can to get rid of your model of the world. Focus on taking away your preconceptions, and do everything that you can to understand the other person’s point of view. Make understanding their model of the world your priority.
Improving your active listening skills will allow you to grow tremendously as a person and as a coach because it shapes, and reshapes your ideas about yourself, your beliefs and the things that are important to you. It also allows you to connect at a much deeper level. So again, focus on those two exercises this week. I would love to hear how you apply it and about your results.
Ready to learn more and take your skills to the next level? Reach out to get more information at www.NAPCoachingAcademy.com/APPLY
This article was originally published at YourDailyLifeCoach. Reprinted with permission from the author Willard Barth.
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