Listen With Your Mouth

Several years ago our family was out to dinner with some friends. At one point during the meal their daughter said, “Hey everybody, Look!” When we all looked, we saw that she had put her earbuds in her nose and right when she had all our attention, she opened her mouth and we could hear music coming out of her mouth like a speaker. It was hilarious. But that’s not what I mean by listening with your mouth.

Listening with your mouth is more like the question I left you with last week, “What’s your story?” You listen with your mouth when you use your mouth to encourage the other person to speak or to speak more.

How to H.E.A.R.

There is an acronym that can help to remember the key elements or steps to good listening. I included this in a post in January of last year. The acronym is HEAR. Two of the four elements, interestingly, involve our mouths.

H is for hush. We have two ears and one mouth. But, we often use them in reverse proportion. We often talk more than we listen. The first step in Hearing someone and certainly in listening is to close our mouths. We can’t listen when we’re talking. Hush also refers to quieting some of the internal barriers to listening like prejudice against a person or idea.

E is for Empathize. Put our autobiographical responses on hold until we’ve heard the other person’s story from their point of view. There is a difference between Sympathy – sharing the speaker’s feelings (we’re not trying to do this) and Empathy – understand the speaker’s feelings (we are trying to do this) (E can also be for “Evaluate” when listening must be critical)

A is for Ask. I wrote more about this in a later post. But, questions are the most useful communication tools we have. The first rule of good listening responses is when in doubt, ask. The presidents association of New York once estimated that good questions increase our comprehension and retention by about 15%.

R is for Reflect. I also devoted another post to this. But, good listening responses reflect the speaker’s meaning like a mirror. How? Repeat and rephrase what you hear. It’s the most basic kind of feedback. You’re simply feeding back the speakers meaning to check for understanding. It is often easier to react than to reflect.

Initiating the Story

When you want to know someone’s story you have to get them talking. How do you do that? You could start with, “What about this weather?” I grew up part of my young life in Michigan where an apt reply would by, “Yeah, but wait 15 minutes and it will change” followed by the laughter of shared experience. While that gets the person talking, it doesn’t get you into their story.
You may want to try some of these conversation [story] starters:

  • “What are the top three things on your bucket list?”
  • “If you could ask for a miracle, what would it be?”
  • “What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?”
  • “Who has been the most influential person in your life?”
  • “What’s the most memorable lesson you learned from your parents?”

You can find 220 more possibilities here.

Going Deeper into the Story

Listening to someone tell their story is like viewing a picture. At one point in the conversation the picture may be like a sepia toned, old, faded snapshot. A little more information may add color and clarity to the picture. Still more information gives the picture 3 dimensions until at some point the picture begins to move. Even more information and you’ve stepped behind the eyes of your storyteller and are seeing the world through them. That’s Super Power Listening.

How do you get the additional information? With your mouth. Use questions to tease out the color, depth, movement, and emotion of the story. But make sure your questions are open ended. For example, instead of asking, “Were you angry?” which requires only a yes or no answer, ask “How did you feel?” That invites the speaker to volunteer more about their emotions.

Examples of other open ended questions include:

  • “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “Why did you/they do that?”
  • “What’s next?”
  • “What’s the most important thing about that?”
  • “How did they feel about that?”

You see, it’s not only possible to listen with your mouth, if you want to get to SuperPower Listening, it’s necessary.

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