Join Brenda Bailey-Hughes for an in-depth discussion in this video Allowing silence, part of Effective Listening.
- The quieter you become, the more you can hear. I heard this quote from author Ram Dass many years back, and found that it captures exactly what silence can do for effective listening. Brenda talked about mental, and visual distractors, that all of us have to battle as we try to listen intently. I'd like to talk about the physical and vocal silence that will make you a better listener. Physical silence obviously means no fidgeting, swaying, glancing around with your eyes, and continuously shifting positions.
This doesn't come easy to some of us. See, I suffer from kinesthesia, the Greek word that literally means sense of movement. This is my processing and learning style. So when I listen, I'm more likely to want to move as I take in the information. This type of processing style has been studied by pedagogy experts since the 1940s. Kinesthetic people mentally process better when movement is involved. They prefer the news on the radio when they drive, meetings that are happening while walking, and in general, they seem to fidget a lot, either with their feet under the table, or with gestures when they speak.
When you sit still and listen, you give the sense that your undivided attention is on the speaker, which makes you a more supportive listener. If you're a kinesthetic processor like me, you may have an easier time listening on the phone, since your physical fidgeting is not evident. When you're listening face to face, you might be better served by taking some notes. Always ask permission first, "Do you mind if I take some notes?" But use this strategy when the context is appropriate.
I usually don't pull out the notepad when Brenda tells me about a personal story. It would be a little bit too awkward. Once your body is saying, "I hear you." Your vocalics have to follow along. Silence is golden. Cross-cultural researchers have clearly shown that silence and communication of certain cultures, such as Korean, Chinese and Japanese, can be interpreted as respect, and politeness. Wait a few seconds before you paraphrase. Nod affirmatively, but without saying anything.
Maintain strong eye contact, even when the other person stops talking. Even though US culture may not value silence as much as other cultures do, using silence in your listening practice can communicate respect.
- Recalling details
- Avoiding distractions and the feeling of being overwhelmed
- Clarifying your role
- Using attentive nonverbal cues
- Paraphrasing what was said
- Matching emotions and mirroring