Talking Out Your Ear


During his years as an FBI hostage negotiator - sometimes with the world's most ruthless terrorists - Chris Voss didn't talk his way out of dangerous situations but achieved positive results by listening.

"Listening is not passive," Voss writes in his biography, "Never Split the Difference." "It's the most active thing you can do."

We've all met someone and immediately forgotten their name. Why? Because we are focused on what to say next or concerned about the impression we'll make, says Joshua Foer, author of the book about memory champions, "Moonwalking with Einstein."

Listening intently demonstrates empathy and a sincere desire to understand the other person, Voss says. When people feel listened to, they evaluate their own thoughts and feelings whether at the board room, kitchen table or social event.

That makes them less defensive, calms them and makes them more willing to listen to you.

To remember someone's name, Foer recommends associating that person with something you are already familiar with. If a woman tells you her name is Betty, you may think of famous television actress Betty White. Someone named Terry can be remembered by thinking of terry cloth.

The toughest part of active listening is concentration. To prove you understand a person's position, repeat what they say back to them or acknowledge their thoughts by throwing in a "yes," "I understand" or best of all: "I hear what you're saying."

Communication experts point to the great Greek philosopher Socrates as the premier example of a great communicator through the use of questions, known as the Socratic Method. What do people most like talking about? Themselves. So asking someone about their world sparks conversation.

In a conflict, the question: "how do you feel?" is a great starter. Questions - and intently listening to the answers - gains rapport. Asking "where did you grow up?" or "what school did you attend?" and "how are you doing?" will likely result in finding common ground. You may have gone through a similar experience or know the sports teams where someone lived.

And remembering someone's name - the most important thing they own - will astonish them. We are reminded every day looking in the mirror that listening is the key to good communication.

We have two ears and only one mouth.


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