Tips to Improve Your Marriage

OK, now that I've got your attention, give me a chance to make the connection. And no, I haven't changed careers. I make my living listening, interpreting and acting on what others want me to help them with. Over the course of the last twenty years, I have become acutely aware how easily it is to misinterpret what is being asked of me, or what I ask of others.

Raising the bar around listening means going beyond good listening to effective listening. Good listening focuses on visual cues; eye contact, leaning forward, nodding one's head. This is about what you do, not the result you're trying to produce.

Effectiveness is about results, and effective listening is about taking our visual cues one step further and answering the question:

Was I heard accurately, or did I hear accurately?

Tips To Improve Your Marriage

Communication is at the heart of successful relationships, both personally and professionally. As we've repeatedly heard from the time we're children, being a good listener is at the heart of good communication.

Every day we're reminded how listening comes up short in the workplace; in meetings where people are more interested in making their point than hearing what was said, in requests that we make of others that don't get done, or requests of us that we misunderstand.

We all know good listening when we hear it. Why is this seemingly common sense skill so difficult and rare?

The Appearance of Good Listening

I'm speaking with someone and while talking, they nod their head. What does this mean? It's clearly an attempt to demonstrate understanding, but more often than not, what they're privately thinking is not what you're saying.

The appearance of good listening is insufficient when there is an expectation that the other person will act on what was spoken.

If you're making a request, a head nod by the listener is most certainly a poor measure of understanding the request. But we often treat this physical gesture or responses like "OK" as evidence of being heard accurately.

The Furled Brow

In my early professional days of teaching technology classes, I learned that facial expressions are useful cues to what people are thinking. A furled brow or disinterested look may mean confusion, boredom, anger, and possibly the same symptoms that cause an infant to smile - gas. The problem is we give these visual cues too much weight in our interpersonal interactions.

What's missing in our communication is recognizing those moments when it's important to elevate our standards around listening to be about effectiveness versus appearance, and acting accordingly.

Air Traffic Controllers

Of all the professions that demonstrate the use of effective listening it's Air Traffic Controllers and pilots:

Controller: Delta 557, reduce speed to one, seven, zero Pilot: 170 speed, Delta 557 Controller: Affirmative, Delta 557

The nature of their work demands a higher standard around listening. The Controller communicates a request, the pilot repeats it and the Controller validates. This simple act holds the key to effective listening.

Unless we work in an emergency room or other high risk profession, this style of communication isn't demanded of us. But we can learn from these examples and apply it to those moments when we need to make timely decisions or follow through on what is being asked of us.

Listening in the Workplace

I recently had a conversation with someone who was preparing for a challenging conversation at work. In discussing her upcoming dialogue, she planned to listen first, then share her concerns with the person.

Does giving the other person a chance to speak first before sharing oneself a demonstration of effective listening? Not necessarily.

What will take this exchange from "good to effective listening" is the following simple statement:

After listening to the other person speak, she reply with:

"This is what I heard you say", paraphrasing what was said, then asking:

"Is that accurate?"

This simple act of restating another person's point of view and asking about its accuracy produces true dialogue, validating whether what was heard is in line with what was spoken. It takes the ambiguity out of statements and requests, creating a transparent dialogue.

Two Exchange - Can You Pick Out The Effective Dialogue?

Exchange 1:

  1. I make a request.
  2. You respond with "I'll take care of it?"
  3. I reply with thank you.

Exchange 2:

  1. I make a request.
  2. You respond with "I'll take care of it?"
  3. I reply with "You'll take care of what?"
    Which example demonstrates effective listening? The second. Put aside all the good reasons why you would be reluctant to respond with "you'll take care of what?" The point is exchange #1 is loaded with assumptions while exchange #2 makes those assumptions transparent. (As an aside, from the years of training people in these skills, you would be surprised how many apparently clear requests are misunderstood by the listener but never validated by the speaker.)Asking validating questions is the only way to truly uncover what was heard or not heard. Once you embrace this point of view, the art is to learn how to ask questions in a way that doesn't sound condescending or patronizing.  

    A key think to remember is if where you're coming from in your communication is to produce effective dialogue versus merely trying to control a situation, you'll find the right language to uncover what was heard by others.

    And if you've made it this far in this article, I'll close with the tip to improve ones marriage - don't try this at home.

    On Listening

    "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

    Robert McCloskey Author and Illustrator - Children's Book 1942 Caldecott Medal winner - Make Way for Ducklings