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Be a World-Class Listener: Responding

This lesson is a part of an audio course Be a World-Class Listener by Ben Butina, Ph.D.

In the last lesson, you learned about how to respond non-verbally to the speaker. Leaning forward slightly, making good eye contact, and nodding are all ways to demonstrate that you're listening and encouraging the speaker to continue.

There are also verbal ways to do the same thing. Researchers call these minimal encouragers. This is nothing more than occasionally saying little things like, "Uh-huh," "Yeah," "I see," or "okay." You aren't sharing your own thoughts or opinions, these are just short-hand ways of communicating to the other person that you're listening, and they should continue. You should offer these minimal encouragers frequently while the other person is talking. You might do this naturally, and that's great. If you don't, you should make an effort to do so.

Another way to show the speaker that you're really listening is called paraphrasing. This is where you repeat what the other person just said in your own words. This not only reassures the speaker that you've been listening, but it serves as invitation to clarify or expand on what they just said. An example of this might be, "So, you're saying that the meetings have been running over and you think it's a waste of time." or "So the choice you're facing is between a job that's a short commute that doesn't pay as well or a job that pays well but would add a half-hour to your commute."

When should you paraphrase? After the person is done speaking. Remember back in Lesson Five when we talked about the beat. You let the speaker finish and wait a beat to ensure they're really done with their statement. Only then should you paraphrase what you've heard.

Another way to verbally respond to the speaker is to ask them to elaborate. You might say something like, "Tell me more about that" or ask, "I'd like to hear more about that." When should you ask the speaker to elaborate? Once again, after the beat. They're done speaking, you wait a beat, and then invite them to say more.

And finally, you can ask the speaker open-ended questions. An open-ended question is basically any question that can't be answered with a simple yes or no. When you ask an open-ended question, you're inviting the speaker to say more about the topic. Your question shouldn't be confrontational or combative, and this is just as much about tone as content. "Why do you think that?!" is combative. "Why do you think that?" is fine.

The verbal responses we reviewed in this lesson – those minimal encouragers like "uh-mm,” paraphrasing, and open-ended questions – aren't meant to interject your own thoughts or opinions into the conversation. Their sole purpose is to show the speaker that you understand what they're saying and to encourage them to say more. If you do this, the speaker will feel heard.

The purpose of this course is to make you a world-class listener, not a world-class advice-giver or problem-solver. If you are a good listener, though, the speaker will feel comfortable asking you for advice or help. By all means, feel free to offer it, but try to resist the urge to do unless you're asked. If the speaker seems stuck and doesn't ask for your advice, you can always ask permission to do so. Ask something like, "Would you like to hear my thoughts on this?" or "Would you like help thinking of some new ways to handle this?"

In our next lesson, we'll talk about asking for feedback on your listening, which is what will take you from being a very good listener to being a world-class listener.

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Written by

Ben Butina, Ph.D.

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