JCK Show: Be an active listener

“Listening” to someone is different from “hearing” them, Dr. Lawrence C. Helms noted in a seminar on “Effective Listening Skills” Wednesday.

“Listening is a conscious act,” Helms said. “It requires concentrated effort. When you hear someone, it’s just an involuntary reflex. But listening is wanting to understand what is being said.

“When a baby cries, a stranger hears it,” he continued. “But a mother listens. Is the baby tired? Is he hungry?”

For most people, however, “listening” just means waiting for their turn to speak. “Mark Twain said, `The more listening you do, the smarter you become,’ ” Helms explained. “If you get people to talk about themselves, they walk away with a favorable impression of you, because they are talking about their favorite subject. You are increasing their self-esteem and psychologically validating them. Studies show that people regard good listeners as good conversationalists.”

Other tips on being a good listener:

* Use the end of a person’s sentence to start your next sentence. This forces you to listen.

* Paraphrase what is being said to you.

* Use a person’s name as often as possible. * Don’t think you know what the other person is going to say. Never interrupt people or finish their sentences.

* Don’t try to “top” someone’s story with a story of your own. “Next time you think you know a better story than someone, keep your mouth shut,” Helms said.

* Eliminate distractions. Don’t “multi-task” when you talk to someone.

* Lean slightly toward the other person and appear as if you don’t want to miss a single word.

*l Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Look people in the eye. “You should know the eye color of every person you speak to,” Helms said.

* Don’t “over-control” the conversation. “People are turned off by control freaks,” Helms said. “Good listeners allow the other person to move the conversation in whatever direction they choose.”

* Remember that questions are a subtle form of flattery. Ask “leading questions,” which are open-ended and can’t be answered “yes” or “no,” such as “Would you tell me a little more about that?” and “Could you give me an example?” “Asking questions is like peeling off the skin of an onion,” Helms said. “Each question takes away another layer until you get to the true problem or concern.” Listen for “iceberg statements,” where what is being said is only part of what the person wants you to know.

* Be alert to cultural differences. Western speakers want greater “personal space,” but other cultures expect closeness.

* If appropriate, take notes when people speak. * Never say anything bad about the competition. It sends a negative message.

* Do “posture echoing.” Mirroring the other person’s posture sends a subconscious “bonding” message. “Surveys say that people trust people who exhibit the same characteristics as themselves,” he said.

* Don’t contradict your words with your body language. Folding your arms and frowning send bad messages. Hand and arm gestures can be distracting.

* Smile. “If you are happy, let your face show it,” Helms said.