We may think of listening as a silent activity, but good listening includes a surprising number of verbal responses. It is helpful to think of listening as distinct components so we can analyze our own listening skills and recognize good listening in others. Listening, the process of paying full attention to someone speaking, includes three elements, each with two components: the affective element with the components of empathy and engagement, the cognitive element with the components of attention and comprehension, and the behavioral element with the nonverbal and verbal components.
Homing in on the verbal component of listening behavior, there are the small sounds/words we utter, the phrases we state, and the questions we ask. Usually, these verbalizations occur in some combination. Always, the purpose of the verbal component of listening is to encourage the speaker to continue or to clarify/confirm understanding for the listener. Even though the listener is verbalizing, this component of listening focuses on the speaker. The “litmus” test of effectiveness is if the verbal behavior keeps the speaker talking. Here are examples of little words, helpful phrases, and curious questions that my communication coaching clients have found effective.
The pitch and volume of these utterances can vary depending on the intent of the listener. For example, a higher pitch at the end connotes a question and louder volume adds emphasis.
- Uh huh
- Got it
Longer phrases encourage the speaker to provide more detail or to clarify/confirm some element of their communication. The purpose of rephrasing what was heard is not to prove the listener is good at memorizing, but to give the speaker a chance to clarify their message based on feedback.
- Thank you for sharing.
- I appreciate your perspective.
- I appreciate the information.
- It is clear you have researched this topic.
- So, what you are saying is <rephrase what your heard>
- What I heard was <rephrase what your heard>
- It seems as though <phrase what was inferred but not directly stated>
Open-ended questions allow the speaker to continue the conversation in the direction they see most fit. On the other hand, specific questions serve the needs of the listener to clarify or expand upon points of interest – this is a good conversation technique, but not a listening technique. Curious and open-ended questions are designed to encourage the sharing of more information that the speaker deems relevant.
- Can you tell me more?
- What else have you discovered?
- What else might be possible?
- What else could we explore?
- What have we yet to consider?
Here are some effective combinations of the sounds, phrases, and questions.
- Got it. <Rephrase idea>. Did I hear that correctly?
- Thank you for sharing. Can you tell me more?
- What I heard was <rephrase idea>. My initial reaction is <emotion-not thought>. What I would like to know more about it is <element you are most curious about>.
- Hmm. It seems like you may be feeling/thinking/considering <state what is inferred but not spoken>. Might that be the case?
Uttering small sounds and words, stating helpful phrases, and asking curious, open-ended questions comprise the verbal behavior of listening that supports the speaker in sharing information they seek to convey. I encourage you to try out the examples above and send me other examples that have worked well for you. Keep listening – it makes communication better and it makes life more interesting!