“God gave us two ears and one mouth. We should use them in proportion.”

So much can be learned from listening. So much conflict can be avoided by hearing, understanding and letting others know that you have heard and understood.

By listening I mean more than the type of listening that allows you to hear what has been said. That is paying attention. I mean the sort of listening that shows to the speaker that you have heard and understood what has been said. Saying once twice (or constantly as is the practice of some people) words like “I fully understand what you are saying” doesn’t work.

We all know when we have been with people who have really listened to us. We feel that the person truly understands our problem or point of view. Those who knew him say that John F Kennedy had the “gift” of being a good listener.

We can all learn to listen better if we understand what constitutes good listening from the perspective of the speaker.

From the perspective of a speaker the essence of good listening is to feel that your listener hears and understands not only what you have said but the feelings and underlying values that you are expressing.

To really let people know that you are listening you need them to know what you have heard. If you have not heard what they wanted to express they can then correct your understanding. If you have heard and understood then they can get on to the next thought, confident that you are listening and understand

How do you do this? First offer the verbal and visual clues that demonstrate attention. Look the listener in the eye and pay attention only to them. Try not to pace, look around or be distracted by other people or things. Occasionally acknowledge what they are saying with a verbal cue, such as “uh huh” or “go on”. A good friend of mine who I know is respected as one of the best mediators in Australia (his colleagues and clients tell me) has an incredibly effective way of saying things like “really” or “is that right” with a rising inflection in his voice. He gives people the impression that he wants to hear more and that what you are saying is interesting.

Step 2 in good listening is to reflect back or paraphrase what you have heard. Reflection and paraphrase have two benefits. First the speaker will know that you are listening. Second if you have heard it wrong or your interpretation is not correct the speaker can correct you.

Next try to understand and reflect the feeling that the speaker is expressing. When told that you have done something that does not please your boss it is helpful to know if your actions have made them angry, disappointed, frustrated, sad or something else. Your boss is less likely to harbour the feeling if she knows that you understand what it is.

For instance if the boss yells at you for being late for a meeting you reflect back to the boss words to the effect “It sounds to me like you were embarrassed when I arrived 15 minutes late for the appointment with the client”. Your boss will be satisfied that you understood her and how she feels.

If as well as reflecting feeling you show an understanding of the underlying value that has caused the feeling you will go a long way to enhancing communication and the building the trust that satisfies your boss that a recurrence is unlikely.

One final tip about listening…….If at work you have a colleague, client or associate who in a heated discussion says the same thing more than twice you can assume that they feel they have not been heard. In that case try even harder to be a good proactive listener. Until that person feels they have been heard, the level of negative emotion will remain high and the tension will probably increase.

Listening is a skill that can be practiced. If you practice the techniques that are discussed here and apply them when listening, the level of conflict in your life will decrease dramatically and your relationships will improve.

Written by Stephen Lancken, The Trillium Group, Australian branch of the Stitt Feld Hand Group.