Ten Steps To Better Listening


Talking is the least important half of any conversation. Listening is the real skill. Listening for what is being said, what is being omitted and what's being given a "spin."

You won't get what you need from any conversation unless you know how to listen correctly -- and know what to listen for. Questions, properly used, draw out what you need to hear. But they will be useless unless you listen closely enough to catch what people are telling you.

Here are some crucial guidelines for listening: what to listen for and how to make sure you don't miss it.

1. STAY IN THE MOMENT

Don't allow your attention to drift. Don't let your mind run ahead, preparing the next question or anticipating the flow of conversation. Stay right here. This is where the action is. Don't miss it.

2. DON'T FEAR PAUSES

Many people are afraid they'll look stupid if there's a pause while they consider what to say next, so they tune out part way through the answer to start preparing.

Listening to the answer is far more vital than having the next comment ready as soon as the other person draws breath. Thought is much faster than speech. It may feel as if minutes pass while you get your next question ready, but it will be a few seconds at most; a few seconds in which the person you're talking with will see you have truly listened.

Which will best encourage openness: being slick with the next question or showing you truly listened to the last answer?

3. LISTEN TO "WHAT," THEN "HOW" AND LASTLY "WHY"

Always listen in this order. Get the basic facts clear first (the "what"), then move on to see how they fit together (the "how"). Lastly, try to understand why -- the motives, thoughts and intentions behind the actions and behaviors.

Listening like this will show you right away where essential parts of the story are missing, so you can ask a question to draw them out.

4. WATCH FOR PATTERNS

Patterns are the most revealing elements in any person's story: patterns or action, patterns of choices, patterns of responses to others. Any specific action may be no more than chance. We all make bad choices and take wrong turns. None of that is specially important. But if there is a pattern of bad decisions -- or a pattern of good, courageous ones -- that suggests a recurring trait that will apply in the future as much as it has in the past.

I can't tell you how to do this. Some people seem almost incapable of noting patterns, even after you've pointed them out. It's all about spotting links between seemingly disconnected topics; the kind of links you get in a good mystery novel where the detective pieces all the clues together into an unanswerable proof of guilt.

What I can suggest is that you practice. Like all skills, practice will improve your performance. The more practice you have, the easier it will be, until you can do it in real time.

5. DON'T MAKE NOTES OBSESSIVELY

Taking notes is good practice, just so long as it doesn't interfere with the natural flow of the discussion. Don't allow long pauses while you break eye-contact to scribble on your pad.

The simplest suggestion is to note just a word or two and fill in the blanks immediately after the interview when the detail is still fresh in your mind. Don't assume you'll remember what "toes" meant when twenty-four hours have passed.

6. WATCH FOR EYE AND BODY MOVEMENTS

We communicate in many ways beyond words. But don't fall for pop-psychology interpretations of body language. Shifting in the seat may mean anxiety about some deception. But it may also mean the other person is too hot, too cold, or needs the bathroom.

There is never a simple, perfect "interpretation" of so-called body language. It's best to see it for what it is: a sign that something is going on that might demand your attention. Use it as a wake-up signal and you won't go wrong.

7. NEVER ARGUE OR GET EMOTIONAL

Whatever the other person says in a formal conversation, however much you disagree or loathe what's being said, never, never rise to the bait. Be respectful, without implying agreement or disagreement. Keep your attention alert and your mind open. You have a job to do, not a debate to win. Getting into an argument will interfere with your purpose.

8. LISTEN FOR TONE AND CHOICE OF WORDS

One of the least conscious parts of speaking is the tone we use: relaxed, tight, anxious, angry. Listening to the tone can alert you to meanings far beyond the literal interpretation of the words used.

Does the other person sound at ease? Tense? Uncertain? Angry? Sad? What might this suggest? Does it form a pattern?

Our choice of words can sometimes be a giveaway too. Especially if that choice results in using emotional or judgmental words. If I say a customer is "demanding," that's an objective outlook. If I use words like "awkward," "nasty," "deceitful," "dishonest," or "bloody-minded," I am being judgmental and revealing my emotions as well. Which tells you more about my attitude?

Just remember not to over-react to a single instance. Maybe that customer was dishonest. It happens. Look for patterns that suggest a fixed attitude.

9. REMEMBER YOU'RE HEARING A STORY

Listen for the ebb and flow; the big themes and central ideas. Ask yourself: "What's this story all about? How has it developed? Where's it going?" Don't concentrate on isolated facts. Look for the patterns and how they fit together to form the story of that person's life to date.

10. SMILE

Nothing is more disarming than a smile. Nothing better conveys interest and respect. With so much going on in your head -- asking questions, listening to the answers with rapt attention -- it's easy to come across as stuffy and miserable. Smile. Relax.

You have plenty of time and this person in front of you is really very interesting. Never hurry. Wait until you are sure the other person has said all there is to be said. Those silences while you wait to see if there's more to come are your most powerful technique. Most people cannot resist filling them -- often with all the things they knew they ought not to mention.

Smile. Relax. Wait. It will all come pouring out.

Adrian W. Savage writes for people who want help with the daily dilemmas they face at work. He has contributed more than 25 articles to leading British and American publications and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Chicago Tribune.

Visit his www.adriansavage.com">blog on the ups and downs of business life.


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BREAK: Irish PM says he’s “delighted” to hear of @DavidDavisMP remarks this morning - “very happy with the clarification” via @GavReilly from TV3

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I’m afraid the chancellor slightly misspoke ...

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Anyone in any doubt that David Davis was lying or mistaken yesterday shld read para 96 of the EU-UK agreement he made. Divorce bill contingent only on agreeing transition & “framework” for trade deal; not a “trade outcome” as he said on #Marr pic.twitter.com/aLwj4G7x7x

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Patients too poor to settle medical debts are chained to drainpipes, starved and abused in health centres across parts of Africa and Asia, report reveals

Hospitals are detaining hundreds of thousands of people against their will every year – many of them mothers and their newborn babies – simply because they are too poor to pay their medical bills, a study has found.

The practice, which is widespread across parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, sees patients chained to drainpipes, starved and abused, and forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for cash to pay off their bills, according to the paper published by Chatham House this week.

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When a Sri Lankan family moved to the Gulf in search of a better life, they reckoned without stringent labour laws that would bring unspeakable grief

Holed up in an apartment on the seventh floor of a tower block in Sharjah, the family of five desperate Sri Lankans were racking up debts and disquiet at an alarming rate.

Unable to pay fines that had been mounting daily since their visas expired four years earlier, they felt trapped. The father’s passport had been withheld by an employer, which meant the 55-year-old could neither find work in the United Arab Emirates nor leave the wealthy Gulf state to seek employment elsewhere.

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With nearly a million Rohingya driven out of Myanmar in what the UN has called textbook ‘ethnic cleansing’, Lucy Lamble hears about the situation on the ground in Bangladesh – and how the international community can help

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in the wake of a brutal offensive by the Burmese army. Traumatised men, women and children with horrific stories have arrived in Bangladesh, and NGOs and the Dhaka government are struggling to cope.

Lucy Lamble is joined by Dr Champa Patel, head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House, and Asif Saleh, senior director of communications, strategy and empowerment, from Brac, an NGO working in Bangladesh and beyond, to discuss the humanitarian situation in Cox’s Bazar and the politics of the crisis.

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Questions raised over legality of airstrikes and shelling as figures show a quarter of all civilians killed in Syria in 2016 were under 18

Child deaths are on the rise in Syria’s war, according to estimates that show one in four civilians killed in 2016 was under the age of 18.

The authors of a study published in the Lancet Global Health said aerial bombing in urban areas had “a disproportionate lethal impact on civilians, particularly children”.

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Dedicated nurses play a key role in helping rape survivors in South Africa, yet their future is threatened by a funding crisis that has lurched from bad to worse

Up to a quarter of women in South Africa are raped. Most survivors never report the crime, yet those who seek support may fall under the care of people like Teddy Ceba and Mabel Qhathatsi, forensic nurses who provide health and criminal justice services in Free State province.

For more than a decade, Ceba and Qhathatsi have worked together at one of the country’s 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres, one-stop clinics that, operating at public hospitals or within communities, form a critical strand of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy.

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Across West Bengal, a bank run by and for sex workers ensures they keep their earnings safe and avoid the loan sharks – and means they can get an official ID

As a sex worker in Kolkata, Rita Roy had no access to her own money. The brothel madam kept her earnings “safe” – shoving the notes into her bra – and whenever Roy needed money, she would never get the full amount she asked for.

Roy, 36, did not have a bank account. When she needed money to treat her father’s heart condition seven years ago, she was forced to visit a loan shark to borrow 2,000 rupees (£23). In one year, 13,000 rupees extra (£150) was due from the interest.

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The government hopes its investment will lure foreign firms and boost the economy – but low wages and poor infrastructure may see it falter

Concentrating intensely, Haimanot Ayele picks up three pins from a pile and places them into a hole on a wooden board. He repeats the exercise for 90 seconds – a test of his dexterity.

The 23-year-old has travelled 56 miles to the city of Hawassa, in southern Ethiopia, to try out for a job in the textile business at the Chinese-built industrial park – a facility that should eventually cover 300 hectares (741 acres) – which was opened by the government in July 2016 to boost the economy and help it break free from aid.

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After Alan Duarte lost nine of his male relatives to violence, he set up a boxing academy to help young people develop their potential. His work is now the subject of an award-winning documentary by British filmmakers, The Good Fight

The men in Alan Duarte’s family do not die from natural causes. Gun violence in the favela complex of Alemão, Rio de Janeiro, has claimed the lives of 10 close male relatives. After the death of his brother, Jackson, Duarte decided to fight back.

With a few borrowed gloves and castoff punchbags, in 2014 Duarte set up the boxing academy Abraço Campeão (Embracing Champions) to help children and young people develop their potential as well as the skills to forge a better future, despite growing up in a community blighted by armed conflict and decades of state neglect.

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Rights group urges International Criminal Court to open investigation into crimes against humanity committed over past 18 months in brutal state crackdown

Police have killed dozens of children in the “war on drugs” in the Philippines in the last 18 months, Amnesty International said.

The rights group urged the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown, including the deaths of an estimated 60 young people by police and vigilantes. Some of those killed were deliberately targeted in anti-drugs raids, while others were caught in the crossfire. There have also been “riding in tandem” attacks, carried out by vigilantes on motorcycles, which are often paid for by police, Amnesty said.

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I was extremely hesitant to share my immigration status, and my sexuality – but I did it, and I’m stronger for it. I say to others like me: you are not alone

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment.

You’re a child. You’re five years old. You leave the country you were born in for another. You’re with your mother, and all you have is a few belongings, the promise of seeing your father again, and the hope for a better tomorrow.

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The Trump administration has put the future of young, undocumented immigrants at risk. Meet our guest editors and hear what they have to say

As soon as Justino Mora wakes up, a new number pops into his head.

At first, it was 322. Then, 305. 301. 297. Eventually, it will be zero.

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Two days after America’s closest allies denounced it in the United Nations, a day after an Israeli air strike killed two in Gaza and hours after protests erupted near the US embassy in Lebanon, Donald Trump’s ambassador to the UN relayed his message to the world: “The sky’s still up there. It hasn’t fallen.”

Related: Macron tells Netanyahu that US recognition of Jerusalem is threat to peace

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Inequality predicts homicide rates ‘better than any other variable’, says an expert – and it is linked to a highly developed concern for one’s own status

A 17-year-old boy shoots a 15-year-old stranger to death, apparently believing that the victim had given him a dirty look. A Chicago man stabs his stepfather in a fight over whether his entry into his parents’ house without knocking was disrespectful. A San Francisco UPS employee guns down three of his co-workers, then turns his weapon on himself, seemingly as a response to minor slights.

These killings may seem unrelated – but they are only a few recent examples of the kind of crime that demonstrates a surprising link between homicide and inequality.

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We have the figures: if you’re a woman who enjoys paid work or relaxing activities, having kids will cramp your style

It seems so obvious: having kids affects men and women differently. Sure, emotionally and financially but most clearly in the simple way mothers and fathers spend their time. And when you actually look at how 10,900 Americans carve up 24 hours, the conclusion is pretty stark: if you’re a woman who enjoys paid work or relaxing activities, having kids will cramp your style. Being married with kids also isn’t looking like a great idea according to the numbers.

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A combination of short and longer-term events have conspired to spark a ring of fires that have dotted the Los Angeles area

The exhausted firefighters battling fires that have menaced Los Angeles wouldn’t normally expect to be dealing with such ferocious conflagrations with Christmas just a few weeks away.

Related: California wildfires: winds pose ‘extreme danger’ for Los Angeles

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Donald Trump’s unilateral move to back Israel’s claim to holy city has reunited competing factions across the Middle East to a common cause

The Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has drawn widespread condemnation across the Arab world, with political leaders, commentators and locals labelling the move as provocative and a threat to global security.

The decision has been cast as the final nail in the coffin of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict – an approach broadly recognised by Arab states – and the end of meaningful US diplomacy between both sides after almost 70 years.

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The US president’s recognition of the holy city as Israel’s capital reveals an administration out of its diplomatic depth

“Today,” asserted Donald Trump, marking the formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: “I am delivering.” The question in the aftermath of a statement that has upended decades of carefully crafted diplomacy is: what has he delivered?

Related: What does US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital mean?

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Donald Trump’s abandonment of decades of US policy has set him at odds with the rest of the world and could have far-reaching consequences

In a move condemned by most of the world, Donald Trump has announced the US will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What does his move mean for the key players?

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A recent investigative report by New York magazine found a pattern of bullying of the show’s co-hosts. It’s time leadership is held accountable

When I was growing up, listening to NPR in the morning was more of a staple than orange juice. After graduating from the University of Michigan, my first job included a rotation at the local public radio station, WUOM. My family loves public radio. I love public radio.

More than 15 years later, in 2007, I was recruited to join what I was told would be a new morning show driven by diverse voices and themes at WNYC, along with partners the BBC, the New York Times and WGBH-Boston, distributed by PRI. I thought I’d died and gone to professional heaven. The show would become The Takeaway. I could not know it was going to be an excruciating, painful ride that would haunt me nearly 10 years later.

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A ferry carrying more than 200 passengers has become stuck in windy conditions in Calais, the local government said on Sunday. The Pride of Kent, which was bound for Dover at about midday, is believed to have run aground on a sandbank in the harbour

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Horses at the San Luis Rey training centre in San Diego fled from their enclosure as wildfires engulf the area. Volunteers loosened the fence of a pen enclosing the animals who quickly ran away, panicked by the thick smoke

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Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrate near the US embassy in Lebanon four days after Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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Iraq has formally declared its fight against Islamic State over after three years of heavy combat. Isis has been driven from all the territory it once held in the country, the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced in Baghdad on Saturday, although surviving militants are widely expected to launch a guerrilla war

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In a conversation recorded this summer, Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks to Paul Lewis of the Guardian about the Ten Commandments, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

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Donald Trump endorses Senate candidate Roy Moore at a Florida rally, warning that rival Doug Jones is a 'liberal Democrat' who would be 'completely controlled' by Democrat party leaders. 'So get out and vote for Roy Moore,' Trump tells the cheering crowd

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Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli troops across the West Bank on Friday during protests against the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In Gaza, two Palestinians were shot dead and one protester was seriously injured. The clashes erupted as Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, prepared for 24 hours of urgent consultations with other Palestinian factions, including Hamas, which were expected to conclude with the cutting of ties with US peace negotiators and the cancellation of a planned visit by the US vice-president, Mike Pence, later this month

• Palestinians shot dead in Gaza as protesters clash with Israeli troops in West Bank

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Kim Davis, the town clerk of Rowan county in Kentucky, hit the headlines when she was briefly jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licences. Now, one of the people she refused to license, Prof David Ermold, is standing for election against her in 2018. As part of the democratic process, the two came face to face at Rowan county courthouse for Ermold to register his candidacy. After shaking hands with Ermold, Davis said: 'May the best candidate win.'

US clerk Kim Davis faces gay man she would not let marry in election

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The state of California has faced a number of powerful wildfires this year, some of them covering thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of homes. Fire services are struggling to bring them under control. But what’s making them so ferocious? 

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