Stop, Look and Listen

You may remember ‘Stop, look and listen’, as a slogan for how to cross the road safely. It is also a useful summary for how to create the context for good communication

How often have you said something and been surprised at the _DSC1031response? Misunderstandings in relationships, business and personal, start with poor communication.

Communication occurs not only through our verbal interaction but also through our body language. So how can you improve your skills? Let’s look at three techniques, starting with rapport.

1 Rapport skills

Good communication starts with rapport. Rapport occurs when two or more people feel they are in sync or on the same wavelength because they have similar feelings or relate well to each other. 

We build rapport with others through our understanding of their world. When we are in rapport with others we unconsciously become more like them and we can do this deliberately if we want to establish and maintain rapport.

You can do this when you are in conversation by matching the other person’s positive body language and breathing pattern. Do not match negative body language because the conversation will go downhill fast!  If the other person is sitting down, sit down and turn towards them. If they have their legs crossed, cross your legs. Look at what they are doing with their arms and see if you can do something similar. Notice their breathing pattern and see if you can breathe in and out with them.

It is harder to disagree with someone who is matching you but beware, don’t overdo it. You do not want to look like you are patronising the other person.

2 Active listening

Active listening is about hearing what the other person is really saying.  This is much more than just waiting for your turn to speak. It is about giving your full attention to what is being said and confirming that you have understood the content. The three stages of active listening are:

  1. Comprehending— this is about understanding what the speaker is saying through their verbal and nonverbal communication. This may require confirmation through questioning.
  2. Retaining— remembering what the speaker says is essential to your understanding and how successfully you respond. Retention is lost when you make little effort to listen to the speaker’s message or engage in some other activity while the speaker is talking.
  3. Responding— the speaker looks for both your verbal response and your non-verbal response such as body language.  

Becoming an active listener takes concentration, determination, and practice. It takes self-awareness because you need to notice where your thoughts are going and what you are saying with your body language. Being an active listener leads to better communication and better relationships.

Here are some top tips for being an active listener:

  • Look at the other person directly.
  • Don’t be mentally preparing your reply whilst they are speaking.
  • Give your full attention and do not be distracted by environmental factors such as the radio, TV, or mobile phone!
  • Watch the other person’s body language including gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements.
  • Confirm your attention by nodding and making appropriate affirmative sounds such as ‘yes’, ‘ok’, or ‘uh huh’.
  • Check your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
  • Put your own emotions on hold.
  • Confirm your understanding by paraphrasing by saying things like ‘So what I think you’re saying is …’
  • Ask questions to clarify your understanding such as ‘What do you mean when you say you don’t feel valued anymore?’
  • Do not interrupt the other person to make counter arguments.
  • Be open and honest in your response.
3 Clean Communication

Clean communication is not about keeping the swearing out of your conversations!  It is a technique that was developed in therapy to aid effective communication of issues and to elicit important information.  It is a useful tool to use in conversations to enable the speaker to clarify the issues and to help the listener fully understand what is being said.

Many misunderstandings occur because we interpret what is being said from our own experience instead of finding out what the other person is trying to say. For example:

Client: “I’ve seen your product in a magazine but I can’t complete the online order form.”

Sales Person: “So, what’s difficult about our online form?”

Client: “I didn’t say it was difficult, I said I can’t complete it!”

Sales Person: “What is your problem?”

Client: “It’s not a problem. I don’t have a computer.”

At the end of that exchange both parties are probably annoyed. A clean language way of approaching that conversation would be to reply using the words the client used.

Client: “I’ve seen your product in a magazine but I can’t complete the online order form.”

Sales person: (In a curious, interested tone) “Hmm. Completing the online order form?”

Client: “Yes. I don’t have a computer. Is there any other way I can buy the product?”

Sales person: “Yes, of course. Let me take your details…”

This may sound a bit odd or contrived but it is surprising how much more understood the speaker feels and how much more information they give you.

The basic rules are:

  • Listen carefully to what the other person says.
  • Using a curious tone of voice, repeat back a few words.
  • If you need to ask a question do not introduce any of your own words, frame questions around the speaker’s words for example: “And then what happens?”, “What kind of product?”, “Is there anything else about that product?”

Using clean communication helps to build rapport, demonstrates that you are listening, and reduces misunderstanding. Definitely worth practicing.