How to Listen With All Your Senses

“You can listen to what people say, sure.

But you will be far more effective if you listen to what people do.”

–       Seth Godin




A friend of mine mentioned that he considered himself a good listener but felt that sometimes he didn’t really ‘catch’ everything someone was saying to him.  I told him to ‘join the club!’ Did you know that regardless of who we’re listening to, most people only remember between 25%-50% of what’s being said?


Listening is a fine art, and like all other arts, it requires the use of more than one sense to be good at it.  When we listen, we need to not only remember what someone says, but to make meaning from it.


So how to you get the whole picture?  You get it by what people are telling you, not only verbally, but what they communicate non-verbally when they’re saying it.


  • What does their body language look like?
  • Are they making eye contact?
  • Are they gesturing, or walking around?
  • What about facial expressions?
  • Are they doodling on a piece of paper or playing with their hair?


These are just some examples.  Put it together with what they are communicating through both words and tone of voice, and you begin to get the full picture. When we listen we don’t really respond to what is said, but rather we respond to what we heard.


How do we make sure we’re understanding it from the viewpoint of the person speaking and not our own interpretation?


Here are some tips:


  • Paraphrase: Summarize what you’ve heard in your own words to make sure you’ve understood the issue from the perspective of the person speaking. You might say: ‘So it sounds like _______.’  ‘What I’m hearing is __________’, ‘If I understand correctly___________’
  • Reflect the feeling of the other person. It’s important you’re able to use both your verbal and non-verbal listening skills to reflect back the tone and feeling of what you’ve just heard.  It validates the speaker and makes them feel you understand them and their needs and it encourages them to share more.   You might say, ‘It sounds like you’ve been dealing with this problem for so long that you wonder if there’s really a fix for it.’
  • Focus: If you’re unclear about what the person really wants, try to help them boil it down to just a couple of words and create the foundation from which to build.  ‘If you can tell me what you need in one of two words, what would that be?’
  • Summarize:  Clarify the salient points of the conversation to make sure you’re both on the same page.  (You can also use this technique to help a person get back on track if the conversation strays off course).  It will lay the groundwork for subsequent conversations.


Notice how the use of questions keeps the focus off you and on them.  This is what you need to do.  Your purpose isn’t to direct the conversation back to you.  You’re in discovery mode. Focus entirely on the needs of others and allow them the ‘space’ to open up to a non-judgmental listener. The feelings it will invoke what could be ‘the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’


Next time we’ll talk about how to suppress the ‘mind tricks’ that may undermine our active listening.





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