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Better Communication with People

A few weeks ago I was at a party and standing with a small group of people, chatting about various subjects. It was just small talk and nothing too serious, but one of the men in the group felt the need to respond to every statement that was made. And worse, no matter what the subject matter, he had to interject his own story. I felt like he was unaware that he was sort of “one-upping” everyone in the group. It was irritating, but I truly believe he was simply trying to fit in and didn’t realize what he was doing.

On my drive home though, I was still thinking about this gentleman and how many times I’ve probably been that guy myself. I’m a very extroverted guy and willing to admit that I probably talk too much. More importantly, while someone is talking, I might already be thinking about what I’m going to respond with and not truly listening to the person talking.

When I got home that night, it was bothering me so much that I “Googled” some articles about active listening. I’m sure there are others out there that need to hear this, so I thought I’d share this information with you as well. For me, this is not as simple as reading a few articles. I’ve decided I need to make some changes to the way I interact in a group setting and hopefully become a better listener. I suppose the desire to change is the first step. Here’s what I found and I’ve written these down in my phone with the intention of reading them before I go to another party or group discussion:

  1. Truly, listen to what they are saying, and then repeat back a small snippet. Repackage it, rephrase it, whatever. People like being heard and this tells them you are listening to understand and not just listening to respond. Doing this little exercise also forces me to be a better listener and cuts down on my need to tell them my own story or “one up” them. 
  2. Find something to agree with on their topic. What if I don’t agree with what they’re saying? Well then say, “This is a great topic and I agree with you that it’s important.” 
  3. Tell them what you learned in this discussion. People want to feel like they are contributing. Say, “This has been interesting. I learned something new about you today, or I learned this is important to you, or learned something about this subject.”
  4. Acknowledge something positive about them. “You are clearly a very ______ person.” (passionate, caring, intelligent, thoughtful, etc)
  5. If they’re going through some pain, express empathy for the person or their situation. This can be a challenge if you’re not able to connect with the pain or situation this person is talking about, but instead of talking, just listen to them and say, “This is clearly painful and I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this.”

Active listening is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice. However, active listening can be difficult to master and will, therefore, take time and patience to develop. I’m going to work on this myself.

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