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Climbing the Listening Ladder

I wrote in my book Embracing the Mystery that there was nothing so flattering or so rare as the undivided attention of another. The fact is, people just don’t listen well. I think it was Mark Twain who wrote that someone who wants to talk about himself when I want to talk about myself is boring. How many times have you experienced someone asking you a question, not out of genuine concern for what you have to say, but rather as an opportunity to bombard you with their thoughts and opinions on a topic?

People have a hunger to be heard – to care enough to suspend their own agenda for the benefit of another. Unfortunately, such selfless, considerate people are few and far between.

I once had a man at a party come up to me and tell me that my wife Carol was an amazing conversationalist. On the way home that night I told Carol what she had said and asked her what she had done to give him that impression. He thought for a moment and said, “All I did was ask him questions about his life and listen to his answers. From his answers I asked more questions.” Therein lies the secret of good conversation…TO LISTEN WELL.

From Carol’s insight I have developed what I call a listening ladder. Climb the listening ladder and you’ll be on your way to improved social interaction.

THE LISTENING SCALE

L. Look at the person talking to you. This alone sends the message that you are focused and engaged.

A. Ask additional questions that stem from the answers given to your original opening questions. Remember that you learn what to say by listening to what has been said.

D. Do not interrupt. The only time an interruption is acceptable is when you need clarification.

D. Don’t change the subject. The speaker will indicate when he has finished his story.

E. Empathize with the speaker. Short phrases like “How interesting.” “How exciting.” “You must be so proud.” Send the speaker the message that you are an empathetic, caring listener.

R. Respond to what is said orally and non-verbally. A simple nod or slight bow to the speaker shows interest and attention. Add to it phrases like “I see.” “Really?” “It’s correct?” and enrich your answer.

In conclusion, I want to clarify something. The debate is a two-way affair. Most conversations are monologues conducted in the presence of an observer. If, after a reasonable amount of time, the person speaking is not willing to ask you a question and become a listener, end the interaction and move on. I usually give the speaker ten minutes. If, after that time, they haven’t asked me a question or my opinion, I say something like, “It was nice chatting with you. The conversation MUST be mutual.

I love the story of the self-righteous Hollywood star who was heard to say to a fan, “Enough talking about me. I’d like to hear you talk about me for a while.” There is a lot of truth in this little story.

Good luck climbing the Listening ladder. The view from the top is fantastic.

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