Use Attentive Listening for Better Relationships

Attentive listening is the most valuable tool we have for enriching the quality of relationships. Yet, many people neglect it.

Attentive listening means listening without distraction. I have met very few people who have practiced this approach to the point of making it a skill. My financial planner was one such person. Cory had the knack of conveying the feeling that, when you were with her, you had her undivided attention. I don’t know if she learned the skill or if it was just natural with her. But I remember the charismatic impression it made on me.

Unfortunately, all too often, we experience the opposite of attentive listening. As the chair of an accreditation team representing the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, I was sitting in the principal’s office. The meeting was in a large urban high school in the second-largest school district in the nation. That year the school was celebrating its 100th anniversary. As I was conversing with the principal and the accrediting team, the principal kept answering the telephone. Aside from the rudeness, the implicit message was that the accreditation team’s evaluation of the high school was less important than his compunction to answer the phone.

Send the Right Message with Attentive Listening

We send implicit messages by the way we listen. If you have a tendency to wander after listening for a few minutes but want to improve your relationships, use this technique: Listen as if you were going to repeat back what is being said to you. This technique can help you resist any tendency to multitask—and that includes interrupting.

It is especially important to give young people your undivided attention when conversing with them. It sends the message that you acknowledge them. Almost above anything else, young people want to be acknowledged—especially teenagers. Don’t lose those precious few moments of connection. In addition, your modeling will help them learn this important communication skill.

With young children, if you are playing with them, let them know that you may have to take an urgent phone call so they will understand ahead of time that their time with you is not secondary.

Tip: When it comes to listening, walking the talk means being conscious of and practicing the skill of attentive listening.