how are your listening skills?

listening skillsThe most important skill that any people helper/developer can cultivate is to listen.  Listening to people is not a passive activity, but an active one. 

Leadership is about influence. Some leaders use positional power to manipulate behavior, but true leadership is relational. Good communication strengthens relationships, and the first step to good communication is good listening.

I have spent the last few weeks in my M.A. class learning about listening. It has been convicting, challenging, and motivating. I thought I was a pretty good listener until I took time to really evaluate my normal communication tendencies against these listening skills…

Listening with full attention

Sitting calm and centered. No fidgeting. Giving eye contact. Projecting warm curiosity. No distractions.

Listening with acceptance

No judgement. No forming opinions in the back of the mind. No planning a rebuttal.

Listening for understanding

“I hear you saying…” “Can you tell me more about that?”

Listening to hear more

Truly engaged and focused. Allowing for silence; not rushing to fill the quiet spaces. Waiting. Lean in.

Listening for information

Can I learn from what they are sharing? Is there something I need to hear? Not getting defensive. Open to hear more.

One exercise I did for the class was to try to listen to someone else talk for three to five minutes without saying a word – just making good eye contact and using body language to show interest and engagement. It was SO hard to not jump in with a comment, advice, or suggestions. You might want to try this… Let me know how it goes for you!

How are your listening skills? What do you do in order to listen well?

communication styles

The single biggest problem in communication
is the illusion that it has taken place. 

George Bernard Shaw

                                                                                                                                  Communication is essential for all relationships. It is the way we connect with others, the way we explain our needs, wants, values, concerns, fears, and dreams. Poor communication results in misunderstandings, unmet expectations, and conflicts. Healthy communication leads to cooperation, mutual understanding and intimacy.

We learn to communicate at a very young age. We develop different communication styles based on our personality and our experiences, and we develop communication skills that facilitate the style that works best for us.

This week I learned about a Communication Style Model that identifies four different communication styles. The study explains that we develop a primary style that we use most often, and sometimes we employ a secondary style if the primary isn’t working well or we are under stress. The study also describes how we can interact better with others who use a style different from ours.

Can you identify your primary style?

Each style has important inherent strengths, but none is complete by itself. There is much to appreciate in each; we are better when we have all styles working together. When we communicate with a person whose style is different from ours, it is helpful to match their style and pace as much as possible. Those who can adapt and flex to other’s values and preferences will be more successful in communication.

This communication model has helped me understand what others in my family and workplace might need or prefer. I hope I can apply some of what I have learned to our future conversations.

What have you learned from this model? How can you adapt your style to better communicate with someone important to you?

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For more information: Communication Style Inventory, Copyright 2003 by Ron Ellis, MBA & Judi Iverson-Gilbert, PhD
You might also like to read: how are your listening skills? or asking powerful questions or questions for a destination.

six important abilities for an incarnational leader

As promised in my earlier blog, here are six abilities that we can develop in order to develop an incarnational model of leadership. These abilities come from Duane Elmer’s book, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility.

1. OPENNESS includes getting “out” and involved where people live and also inviting people “in” to my home and life = hospitality. Hospitality has the same root as hospital, two Greek words meaning “loving  + the stranger.” It evolved to mean connecting with strangers in a place of healing. True hospitality receives others openly, warmly, freely without any need to prove anything. Hospitality creates an atmosphere of safety and security so that deep, meaningful conversations can take place. An interesting twist to consider is that we sometimes honor others most by receiving from them rather than by trying to give to them.

2. ACCEPTANCE is the ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person, considering each person as created in God’s image and worthy of dignity and consideration.   A leader demonstrates acceptance when they suspend judgment. Not all judgments are wrong, but most premature judgments are! Acceptance also believes the best of people, while not being naive.

3. TRUST is confidence in a relationship when both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.  Trust develops over time as we practice reciprocal need and mutual dependence successfully. Trust involves emotional risk; it is fragile, hard to gain and easy to lose.

4. ABILITY TO LEARN involves learning about, learning from and learning with others – recognizing that everyone has something to offer. Learning happens best when the leader is able to initiate and sustain interpersonal relationships and when they have a strong self-identity. People who are comfortable with themselves are also authentic and real with each other and avoid pretense in relationships. Active listening communicates a willingness to learn from the one speaking.  Another key to learning is positive, realistic expectations. These increase an individual’s ability to anticipate challenges but also to know that greater learning will be worth the effort.

5. UNDERSTANDING is the ability to find the deeper motivations and meanings behind values and behaviors. This requires pursuing the “roots” below the superficial words and actions. Too often we assume others are foolish or illogical simply because their reasoning is not self-evident to us. Understanding brings new perspectives. Forming the habit of asking Why? Why? Why? helps us to increase our understanding.

6. SERVANTHOOD is the ability to help people in such a way that their dignity is preserved and they are more empowered to live God-glorifying lives. Service takes different forms, depending on the situation, so it can’t be legislated, forced, or manipulated; if it isn’t sincere, it will come across as artificial and false.

I want to be an incarnational leader.  How about you?