Five Tips to Better Listening

1. Bracket. The first principle of giving the gift of listening is dual: to clear the mind's table of one's own solutions, stories, and sidebars so as to give space for the other, AND to keep one's own solutions, stories, and sidebars as devotedly as ever.

It helps if all the partners in a listening-as-a-gift event understand that what is being given is not approval or disapproval, not yes or no, not right or wrong, but only listening in order to hear one another.

2. Enjoy Silence. Enjoying spaces of group silence is part of giving the gift of listening, silence that allows and respects the internal work of gathering thought or processing new insights or feelings.

The practice of allowing enough silence for the quiet, thoughtful ones to feel invited to speak pays off in a clearer, more thoroughly owned consensus.

3. Find a Listener. One's ability to give the gift of listening is sometimes hindered by listening burnout. That's why it's important to find another listener who either practices already, or commits to learn together, this art of gift listening.

For broken teams, rather than first dependence on management consultants and measurements, could all of us sit together and commit to gift listening as our first priority? Once we track well with each other, we will likely create a solution together.

Two people committing to be a listener for each other, and to grow together in the skills of gift listening, make a powerful team. Opportunities open before them and courage comes to walk them through.

4. Use Triggers. So as not to come to the end of the day with many missed opportunities for gift listening, take a moment right now to name and note the situations where the other was willing to talk. Then use the notes as reminders and the situations as triggers to be in the gift-listening mode next time.

I can mark an overheard sigh or an excited babble as signal that someone is ready to receive my gift of listening.

5. Notice Nonverbals. Since nonverbals comprise more of our communication than do words, then the person giving the gift of listening intentionally notices the nonverbals along with the words.

By "noticing nonverbals" I mean bringing them into verbal notice. It's okay to speak of the sigh, the tears, the rolled eyes, the raised voice--and even to ask what they mean, with gift listening.

Copyright 2013 Wilma Zalabak