There are lots of places you can go to learn how to speak. Toastmasters is a free club, you can join Rotary or take a class in communications at your local college or university. It is harder to find a place where you can learn how to listen. And yet, listening is such a powerful tool. I am convinced that marriage and family relationships would be easier and last longer if people had this skill. You will definitely do better both at work and in school if you practice active listening. You will retain more information, understand concepts more deeply and enjoy more intimacy in your relationships.

Things You Will Need

No special equipment is necessary to become a good listener. Hearing is essential. If you are aging and don't hear as well as you used to, you can still be a good listener by paying attention. Make eye contact with the speaker and look for facial clues. Also take into account the surroundings and context. If you hear something that doesn't make sense ask yourself what would be likely that the speaker actually said. Ask the speaker, "Did you say 'broom'? Because I thought I heard you say 'boom,'" if you are not sure. Don't be embarrassed. Most people speak because they want to be heard. Asking questions shows you are interested in what they have to say. People like that.

Step 1

To be a good listener, start by avoiding communication that blocks compassion. Even if you think you are going to disagree with the speaker, be polite and let them finish their sentences. Chances are, even if you start to talk over them, if they are agitated they will continue speaking. Long winded speakers will even start over at the beginning. So let people end of their own accord, unless you having trouble following the story. Then don't be afraid to raise a hand or otherwise indicate you would like clarification. Most people want to be understood and welcome a chance to explain themselves.

Step 2

Listen to every word that is being said while it is spoken. Don't be distracted by trying to think up a clever retort while they are speaking. If you are paying attention an answer will come naturally. Listen and observe without making moral judgment. Such judgments block communication as they imply a goodness or badness to the speaker which creates a disconnect in our mind to hearing what the other person is actually saying. Such impersonal treatment is very off putting. For example, if you are a busy clerk with five projects in front of you, you may have decided that they angry customer at the counter is an idiot. Diagnosing and judging the person before you hear their story, or even if you make this judgment simultaneously to hearing their story, disables you from being able to hear what they are saying.

Analysis of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values. If you are really pressed for time, say something such as "I will have another clerk with you momentarily," or "I would be happy to get the manager for you." What if you are alone and don't have that option? How about "Please give me a moment to finish this so I can give you my full attention." The standard "I will be right with you," is standard, yet it neither communications your needs or theirs.

Step 3

Other forms of communication that block compassion are: making comparisons and denying responsibility. Making comparisons is a form of moralistic judgment. You might start thinking to yourself, "this person is really impatient," or "this person is really rude" and that will block you from hearing what the person is saying. Even if they are impatient or rude, if the issue is their book was printed upside down, you would do well to hear it!

Denying responsibility is the common use of phrases like "have to" or "should." These imply that there is no choice in the matter. The truth is we can never make people do anything. Your friend wants to talk to you about her unhappy marriage. After hearing her lament you reply, "You should make dinner more often." I guarantee this will not go over well. Your friend hears a life-alienating demand from you, no matter how well intentioned, and may never speak to you again about personal matters. But MsMuffintop! You argue, she SHOULD make him dinner!

"You sound overwhelmed," you offer your friend, when she admits her husband wants dinner made and she hasn't been doing it. If you have hit the nail on the head you will see immediate relief in your friend's body language. At last she has been understood! Or maybe she counters with, "I'm not overwhelmed, I'm angry at him." Once again, listening without making a moral judgment has allowed further information to be revealed.

Step 4

Don't confuse value judgments with moral judgments. If you prefer white shoes to blue ones, or serenity to drama, those are value judgments. You are free to pick who your friends are.

Moral judgments are when we insinuate wrongness. Your friend can feel angry because she has an unmet need. And you can hear her discuss that, without making her "wrong." Deciding she has no right to feel that way ends the conversation. You can rest your laurels on being "right" and never achieve meaningful understanding.

Let's say you validate your friend's anger in lieu of criticizing her. What happens next? She feels safe enough to consider her needs. "I'm angry, because we both work, he 'should' help with the housework." She admits. (And as I mentioned earlier, we can never MAKE another human being DO anything.) So you rephrase it for her, "You're angry because you would like more help with the housework?"

Chances are the reason she can't get him on board is because she is making a demand and not a request. Once again, learning to listen is paramount to successful negotiations. When a request is presented like a lawyer coming to trial with bullet point after bullet point:

· I pick up the kids from school

· I work too

· Sarah is out sick and I'm doing her work as well

· My commute is further than yours

The request gets buried.

Tips & Warnings

Linking a feeling with a request with the least amount of extraneous information is the best way to be heard. I feel frustrated by the amount of housework I see, I would like it if you could start dinner when you get home.

Notice how the entire request is made in "I" statements, devoid of blaming, shaming, and campaigning.