Presence: 5 Tips for Being a Better Listener


Hearing is innate to many of us. Listening is a learned skill.

Because it is a skill - like tennis or golf - we can practice and improve our ability. And now is an important time to listen more than we speak.

This is one of those times when listening may be more important than talking.

We learn a lot from listening and many times, our friends, colleagues, and family members just need to “talk it out.” Solving problems (a.k.a. talking) is not always the best strategy.

The next time you sense someone needs to “talk it out,” integrate any one of these 5 tips.

#1: Summon Presence

When you sense that another person needs to “talk it out,” honor them with your complete presence. Give them your undivided attention. Screen out distractions. Silence your cell phone and put it away. Avoid fidgeting, doodling, shuffling papers and people watching. Be attentive and relaxed. Take a deep breath and enjoy giving the gift of presence.

#2: Be Quiet

In other words, don’t talk. Hold your rebuttal. Listen without offering solutions. Avoid interrupting, finishing sentences or rushing them ahead to the next point. Take a deep breath and try to find peace in the quiet.

#3: Display Openness

Bring your supportive nonverbal behaviors remembering that actions speak louder than words. Show the other person that you are listening with relaxed head/facial gestures (i.e., nodding, smiling). Display an open, relaxed posture (i.e., lean forward slightly, arms uncrossed, hands gently resting on your lap or the table, etc.). Offer vocalized pauses to show you are listening (i.e., uh huh, yes, hmmm, etc.).

#4: Use Verbal Strategies

Reflect back what you are hearing by using one or more of the following strategies:

(1) Paraphrase (e.g., “What I hear you saying is….”

(2) Ask clarifying questions (e.g., “What do you mean by…”)

(3) Reflect back what you heard (your perception of what was said) (e.g., “It sounds like you were upset by what they said….”).

(4) Summarize (e.g., “So it sounds like you would like to accomplish 3 things….”).

Make a point of practicing these verbal strategies and you’ll be a winning listener.

#5: Say the Magic Words We All Long to Hear

Sometimes what we really need to hear is the following: “I understand. You are doing just fine.”

Or try this one: “You have a good head on your shoulders. You’ll figure it out.”

And finally, the magic words: “How can I help?”

Everything you need to be a good friend, colleague, family member and leader is in there somewhere.

Set an intention to give the gift of your attention - practice your listening skills. Pick 2-3 strategies above and bring them with you to your next meeting or virtual social engagement. And then, watch the magic unfold.

Hearing is innate to many of us. Listening is a learned skill. Practice giving the gift of presence.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact kathy@refreshmentzone.com for more information on motivational programs.

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