Listening Exercises Part 3

Have you seen either version of the movie, “Karate Kid?” If you have, you understand what it means to practice even if you never participated in a sport or played a musical instrument. In the first version of the film there is the famous “Wax on, wax off” move. In the later version it was “Take off the jacket, put it on.” In both cases the karate kid was practicing moves that would eventually become part of his Kung Fu. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, he was making a habit of things he would later use, without thinking about it, to win.

That’s what we’ve been discussing in the last few posts. I’ve presented some “drills” you can use to make a habit of skills you can incorporate into you overall super power listening. In this post let’s look at three more.

Listening with your Heart

In my original post on Listening with your Heart I suggested the following practice to help you “hush” your own emotions.

Try keeping track of your daily encounters for a week. Jot down how you felt in every encounter. Name the emotions (Anger, Fear, Excitement, Confusion, etc.). Look through your list at the end of each day and try to decipher the triggers for each of those emotions. What caused you to feel that way in each encounter? This exercise will help you become more aware of your emotional responses. Being more aware will help you take control.

Now, same drill, different focus. This time keep track of your encounters for a week and jot down how the other person felt during every encounter. Some people have very sensitive emotional antennae, others do not. This is mostly a function personality type. But, don’t be discouraged if you’re not particularly sensitive to the emotions of others. You can “pump up” your sensitivity. That’s what this exercise is for. Depending on the nature of the relationship, I would recommend checking yourself by asking the person how they’re feeling during your conversation. You may find you’re read on their emotions is not accurate which would be a valuable thing to learn.

Listening with your Mouth

If you follow the link in the heading and read the original post you’ll find that listening with your mouth is about actively engaging in the story of the speaker. Think of it a little like being a reporter who is trying to find the details of a good story. How does a reporter get the details? There’s one way, they ask questions. What questions? There’s another one! Reporters are interested in

  •  Who were the people involved in the story?
  • What did the people do? What Happened?
  • When did the event(s) take place?
  • Where did the event'(s) take place?
  • Why did they do the things they did? and
  • How did they do it?

Practice using those questions when you’re listening. There is a fine line, though, between being an engaging “reporter” and being an “interrogator.” A reporter invites more information, an interrogator is trying to solve a crime. The approach feels different and the interrogator approach can shut people down. If you have or have had teenagers, you may know what I’m talking about.

There is another very specific use of questions. Organizations use it when they want to understand the root cause of something. It’s called “5 Whys?” The name is pretty descriptive. It starts with a problem statement like “My car won’t start.” Then you keep asking “why” until you find the root cause.

  • Why? The fuel gauge is on empty.
  • Why? I didn’t buy gas.
  • Why? I don’t have money.
  • Why? I got fired from my job.
  • Why? I never showed up for work.

Listening with your Hands and Feet

This is about taking action on what your hear and then closing the loop. Sometimes just listening is all a person wants. But, many times they are telling you because they want to see something done, especially at work. The initial good feeling of being heard quickly morphs into frustration if they believe nothing changed.

An exercise to help with this is to identify an action to take during each conversation you have whether the person is asking for one or not. After the conversation, take that action. When it makes sense, find a way to let the person know what action you took.

The other day I was waiting on something with a colleague. We were engaged in “small talk” while we waited. During that conversation, he mentioned a movie he had seen a long time ago and said how much he liked it. I made a mental note to look up the movie and try to see it. That night I did look it up. As read about it I noticed one of the actors had the same last name as the person who had told me about the movie. So, the next day I teased him that he had only told me about the movie because his relative was in it. He thought that was funny, but he also knew I had listened to him. I still want to see the movie and when I do, that will further close the loop.

Over the last three posts I’ve suggested practice drills for improving listening skills. I would love to hear feedback on how you’re doing.

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