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Effective Listening

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.


A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be. — Rosalynn Carter

We are often far more enthusiastic about talking than we are listening. Yet it is so vital if we are to communicate effectively. Most breakdowns in relationships are caused because people talk to each other without really making contact. Unless someone hears what has been said, including the subtext, the words have little value.

When actively listened to, we feel valued and are far more likely to engage in negotiation and compromise.

Listening is about far more than words. Watching facial expressions and body language is often a far more accurate barometer than words.

  • Pleasant things being said where the smile does not reach the eyes is an obvious example.
  • To be an effective listener, you must listen actively.
  • Ten tips to becoming a more effective listener
  • Make eye contact. 
  • Read the body language of the talker. Are they relaxed, anxious, or angry? Extremes are easy to recognize, but often, the message is much more subtle.
  • Mirror the talker’s body language - subtly, a gentle dance rather than a caricature
  • Show that you are listening, nod, and make proper responses
  • Ask relevant questions, and ask them to clarify if you are not clear about their meaning
  • Summaries: so, what you are saying is.
  • Open-embedded questions, the who, what, where, when, and why.

Be careful of the tone of your voice when you respond or ask questions. It is all too easy to come across as judgmental or as an interrogator from the Spanish Inquisition.

Use empathy. Acknowledge difficulties but be careful not to fall into the trap of going into anecdotes from your experience. I sense that you find this rather tricky rather than, oh, I know, it happened to me, but mine was more significant, challenging, etc.

Take a genuine interest; the lack of sincerity will parent to others if you go through the motions. Leave your ego behind; concentrate on the other person.


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