There’s an old saying that goes “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” That’s because listening is the more important part of communication. It is also the harder part of the work. It is much like contemplative prayer where the work is more about listening to God and receiving the great gift of God’s love more so than the words we say to God.
Listening is a lost art in our culture. To develop this art, here’s five strategies as represented by the acronym I-MOVE:
I – Intention
“Seek first to understand before being understood.” Set your intention to give the other person the experience of being fully understood. When someone shares something they want two things: to be understood and to know that what they said means something to the other person. So take in what they have to say and let it impact you. Know that you’ll have your opportunity to speak; don’t be in a rush to have to get your point across. Remember the Proverb, “If one gives answer before hearing, it is folly and shame.”
M – Mirror
Listening is an active process. Mirroring conveys that we’re not just sitting there passively. Mirroring is reflecting back the words and meaning that the person has spoken. This is much easier said than done as it means we have to quiet the filter in our mind that’s preparing a response. The mirror should be flat, reflecting back exactly what the person has said as opposed to your interpretation which distorts the message much like the mirror in the carnival fun house distorts the image. Furthermore, mirroring is whole body listening, meaning we convey our intention through our body language and energy. (Click here for more on Mirroring).
O – Own Responsibility
In every conversation there are two equally valid perspectives. Too often that filter that is preparing to respond only sees it one way – how the other person is wrong. One of the challenges in listening is to own our contribution to the other person’s experience – whether it was intentional or not. This doesn’t mean take the blame anymore than it means to blame them. Blame is toxic; the goal here is to extract it from the dialogue. Own responsibility for how you listen. Ninety percent of your reactivity when you’re listening is about you, not about what or how the other is speaking. Use tools like deep breathing and mirroring help you remain present.
V – Validate
Let me repeat this: In every conversation there are two equally valid perspectives. Honor the other person’s perspective through whole body listening and the words that let them know it. “You make sense” are three simple words that convey a powerful message. Know that this validation does not imply agreement. You can disagree without being disagreeable. Validation communicates that you see their experience and it matters to you. (Click here for more on Validation).
E – Empathize
Empathizing shows that you’re really present with the other person, in their experience with them. And it’s where the rubber hits the road in being a good listener. For when you say, “I imagine all this leaves you feeling sad (or angry, happy, etc.)” and you’re on target, the other person will have that experience of being fully understood. Often there will be a sigh of relief that says “yes, that’s it… you got me.” Empathy is the balm that heals. It dissolves conflict and fuels connection. Empathy is at the core of a genuine, human relationship. (Click here for more on Empathy).
In a tech savvy world that promotes big numbers of friends, followers and connections, the intimacy of real human relationships is often lost. Bring forth these five listening strategies to build your relationships.
- Focus your intention to understand the other person.
- Mirror to show that you’re listening.
- Own responsibility to help you remain present.
- Validate to honor the other’s perspective.
- Empathize to fuel connection.
To every interaction, bring the mantra “I-MOVE so that you know I’m listening.”