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Michael Hoppe wrote the framework for being a great listener, and I have given my color-commentary on his main points, as a primer for boosting your listening skills. Adopting these methods will raise your emotional intelligence, and draw others toward you in relationships.

  1. Paying attention. To your own frame of mind and body language/eye contact/breathing/facial expression/approachable tone of voice. Empty the mind-chatter. Avoid distractions. And to the other person, focused on the moment (leaning forward with a “What can I learn?” posture) and operating from a place of respect/dignity. Your focus leads to connection.
  2. Holding judgment.  Have an open mind for new ideas/perspectives/possibilities. Be willing to be influenced—the opposite of wanting to defend your position. Don’t get hung up on emotional words or poor delivery. When you nod your head, remember the difference between acceptance (“go on”) and approval (“I agree). Hold back criticism or selling your point right away until comprehension is complete. “Hold your fire!” Give them time to get it all out.
  3. Reflecting. To get someone to talk more, repeat the last 3 words or last phrase they said–It’s like they can’t not give you more details. Paraphrase key points to show you heard and understand. Mirror the other person’s emotions and information: “I see a smile.” “You hesitated.” When people sense that you are trying to understand their feelings, as well as their words, they tend to feel safe. “Empathy is listening with the eyes and the heart.” –Stephen Covey
  4. Clarifying. Ask questions that double-check anything ambiguous. Ask open-ended and supportive probing questions to draw people out and help them expand their ideas—which forces them to reflect more deeply. It’s like an excavation project! Use the phrase: “Tell me more…”  Use fill-in-the-blanks: “Because…” “And…” “Meaning…” “So what you’re saying is…”  Or try a perception check/tentative explanation: “I get the feeling you are _____,;is that right?”
  5. Summarizing. Restate key theme(s) to provide the big-picture, in order to help everyone be clear on mutual responsibilities/follow-up. You could ask the other person to summarize, too. This confirms understanding has taken place.
  6. Sharing. Only once you have understanding should you seek to be understood. Now there is more of an open door to introduce your ideas/feelings/suggestions/concerns  “Diagnose before prescribing.” The formula is EAR= Explore, Acknowledge, Respond.

It would be of the highest compliment to be told that you are an incredible listener! Practice on those closest to you and expand to complete strangers. Try to keep your question-asking-to-speaking ratio at 80-20, and make others the hero by shifting the spotlight onto them. And, as always, if you need more encouragement or tactics on rocking your relationships, please contact me at growingforward@paulcasey.org. 

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