Relearning How to Listen

“Everybody’s talking at me/Can’t hear a word they’re saying/Only the echoes of my mind “”

Do these lyrics from a Harry Nilsson song reverberate for you? Do you sense a general lack of real face-to-face communication in the world? Texting, e-mailing and voice mail get the gist of our messages across; however, this technology blocks out any chance for intimacy. Relearning how to listen can bring back the caring in communicating. It can also go a long way toward building a solid, professional relationship with your clients and students. If you listen, rather than merely hear what is being said, you engage your senses and your heart; you promote growth and a unique experience for yourself and others.

Consider that every person you meet is a reflection of some aspect of yourself. Explore it. Be curious. Just recently I met a man who had a need to talk. He began discussing why he had come to the studio and how he was helping his ailing mother. I happen to have strong boundaries and I tend to resist it when someone tries to create a bridge to me. However, in this situation I chose to open the gate. Listening to this man told me more about my willingness to allow him to be heard, than about his situation.

Ask open-ended questions that—by design—reveal more information. Ask the deeper question in a conversation; the question that is begging to be asked, the one that is the purpose of the interaction, the telling question. The deeper question is not what he is willing to pay for my services, but what he is willing to accomplish with them. How will my services help him manage his daily stress?

Learn to be comfortable with silence. This allows for reflection and connection that goes deeper than words. Silence creates the space for more to be revealed. It is perhaps better to feel and sense what the person is trying to communicate rather than to jump right on a solution. When asked how much you charge, for example, instead of responding promptly with a quote, think about the question without feeling pressured. Your thoughtful response might be, “I feel that we would both be best served if I assessed the situation first, and then gather a full understanding of your specific wants and needs before making a price quote.”

Show respect by looking into the person’s eyes. Read her facial expressions. Hear the tone of her voice. Is it passionate, sad or neutrally charged? Stand at a distance that is appropriate and comfortable. Pay attention by sustaining eye contact—looking away demonstrates distraction. Excessive nodding is also distracting and may be perceived as condescending.

Pay attention to language style. Is it formal, casual, funny, serious or humorous? Be authentically you while also matching the speaker’s style. This allows for better flow of communication. People more easily relate to others who relate in a similar manner. I love the quote by Angela Monet: “Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Listen for points of connection and commonality in the content of the conversation. This is your opportunity to share something you have observed that may be of value to the speaker. This builds trust and rapport. It may spark a more passionate chat. Keep in mind that a dialogue that is solely about you is a dialogue of the deaf, so be generous with your attention. Make it about your client as much as it is about you. The key is to use the common area as a bridge that allows you to ask more questions. For example, when at a Christmas party I overheard someone speaking about skiing in Switzerland. I enthusiastically agreed about the resort, and went on exploring her feelings and thoughts around her experience. In this context I was more interested than interesting.

Listen for what is not being said. Behavior or body language often offers more clarity and insight than words. Is there a synchronicity between what is said and what is being reflected? Listening with your intuition can help you relate, or it can signal the end of the interaction. Is what you see what you get, or is there an elephant in the room? There is no value in listening to false truths. For example, if someone appears to be agreeing with you about how to perform a particular Pilates move, but is also standing with her arms crossed and body pointed away from you, it may signal doubt or insecurity. In this case you would want to establish a safety zone and ask deeper questions.

Clarify what you hear. This is essential to good listening skills. Repeating a phrase or thought shows that you have pledged your attention and that you care enough to understand it correctly. It gives the speaker space to rethink or rephrase the thought, and often brings greater meaning to the interaction.

Turn off those echoes in your mind and you will find that options to navigate the conversation will flow more naturally. Everyone has something to offer you if you can just be present to fully listening. Honor each person who crosses your path by giving him or her your undivided attention. In that very special moment you’ll find you honor yourself most of all.

Danielle Vindez holds the vision of optimal health, conscious eating, proper exercise and mental balance for all those seeking to transform their lives. She serves as a role model, life coach, personal trainer and fellow student in the search for excellence.

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