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Are You Even Listening to a Word I Say?


Have you ever been talking to someone and you are absolutely convinced that he/she isn’t hearing a word you are saying? Chances are you are right! Research has shown that the average person listens for 3 seconds before they start thinking about what he/she wants to say next. Researchers Miller, Sherod, and Phyllis developed a powerful communication tool called the Awareness Wheel, which includes a listening cycle. They outline very effective research based skills for listening:

  1. Attend: How can I tell from nonverbal cues that someone is listening to me? Usually, they are making eye contact, facing my direction, and not doing other tasks at the time they are listening. This is called attending.
  2. Acknowledge the other’s experience: This includes some validation on the listener’s part. It may sound like, “Wow this sounds really important to you,” or, “that sounds painful. I am sorry that happened to you.” Acknowledging others’ experiencse ensures that they can’t just see you are listening, but they feel like you are listening and that you care.
  3. Summarize: This is vital to make sure that you as a listener truly understand the person trying to share with you. When summarizing, make sure not to interrupt, but find a natural break to summarize. It may sound like this, “What I hear you saying is that you……. Did I get that right?” I assure you that the talker will correct you if you missed something or added any of your own opinions or assumptions in the summary. Summarizing is essential for understanding.
  4. Invite: If you feel the talker has been brief and you would like to hear more about what they are talking about, you can invite for more information. It may sound like this, “Can you say more about that?” or, “could you expand? I would like to know more.” This step allows you, as the summary step, to understand better. Sometimes, that requires more information.
  5. Ask: As a listener, if you are genuinely confused about something the talker is trying to share, you can politely ask a question. It may sound like this, “Do you mind if I ask a question? Are you referring to the incident that happened yesterday, or the one that happened last week?” This step not only helps you clear any confusion, but allows the talker to know when you aren’t understanding. Beware not to use the question step to jump in as a talker. Allow the talker to fully express him/herself, and be sure you understand before switching roles.

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