One of the most important skills needed in today’s world is listening. I do not mean simply hearing their words, but making sure we understand their meaning. As we listen to other people, it is easy to jump ahead in our mind and make an assumption about where they are headed. Even if we guessed right, does that guarantee we have all the relevant facts?

One of the simplest ways to show respect for another person is to take the time to understand what they are saying. 

I get busy and even bored when someone is belaboring a point. I used to be so impatient, that I would finish their sentence. Yes, that sounds embarrassing now, but true. I learned the theory of listening, but that did not always mean I took the time to hear what people were telling me. Over the years, I finally decided to slow down a bit and listen. I was amazed at what I learned.

Years ago, I learned the theory of empathic listening, or listening with heart and emotion. This was always difficult for me as I am not the most empathetic person. I thought I’d share it with you.

The lesson outlines five steps for attentive listening using the acronym SOLAR.

  1. Squarely face the person. This is especially difficult when you are on a computer. I catch myself responding to my kids without turning from the keyboard. Obviously a big mistake.
  2. Open your posture. Crossing your arms always communicates defensiveness or skepticism, unless you are freezing cold. I find it comfortable, but have learned to avoid this habit.
  3. Lean towards the person speaking. When I get tired, I like to slouch. The best advice is to mirror the other person’s posture. If they are sitting back with their feet on the desk, it might not be good to lean forward. If they sit up, you should sit up.
  4. Eye contact must be maintained. This may be difficult for people with poor self-image or those who like to people watch and insist on meeting in public places. On the other extreme, it is plain creepy to stare at another person without blinking.
  5. Relax your pose. Some people like to fiddle, fuss, and fidget. It conveys to other people that you are bored. Deal with the situation that is causing your tension or at least be honest about it.

A final lesson I have found helpful is to ask more questions and make less statements. By letting the other person talk, we are practicing the discipline of listening for understanding. Until we take the time to understand what another person intends to say, we are not going to be in a position to offer our best help. Therefore, one of the most important skills is listening.

What is your biggest challenge in listening and how do you address it?

One of the Most Important Skills
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