Listening Skills: Talking Too Much
Unless it’s a very short or mainly causal conversation, an effective listener will always try to clarify what is being communicated and to summarize key points to check for understanding. However, in longer or more involved conversations, feedback needs to go even further than this and often involves actively interpreting both the words and the emotions that are being conveyed (especially when the speaker is not being very direct or clear about what he or she means by his or her language alone).
The key skill to develop in offering clarifying feedback is to paraphrase what the speaker is saying. This involves putting a particular communication in its entirety in different words to those used by the speaker but nonetheless trying to convey the same intention (including any feelings that may be present). One way to do this is to use a “stem” sentence beginning, such as “so you seem to feel that …” or “it seems to me that you believe that ….” By paraphrasing what has been communicated in this way (and giving the speaker the ability to confirm that your interpretation is accurate) you immediately show that you are maintaining a positive interest and are keen to build your relationship with that person.
When looking to paraphrase in lengthy discussions, it is important to note that memory of the points made can fail you. As long as it is OK with the speaker you may therefore want to take notes and refer to these as you offer occasional verbal summaries. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you still want to spend as much time as you can on paying attention and concentrating (and not looking down and making lengthy notes). One way to keep your note-taking to a minimum is to just write simple bullet points or to develop your own set of shorthand abbreviations that can help you to record key information quickly while still paying good attention.
If you can’t keep notes, or it seems inappropriate to do so, then the key to good paraphrasing and summarizing is to wait until you have no more than three to four points (especially in a complex discussion) before indicating to the speaker that you’d like to clarify what he or she is saying. In this way, you will not be waiting too long to remember what has been said and/or get the speaker off-track as the conversation unfolds.
The featured video clip is drawn from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder Listening Skills Video Vignette Set.