If a Five Year Old Can Be Taught Active Listening…

As he was driving home from a father and son outing in New Jersey a few months ago, Nathaniel Dancy Sr, suffered an aneurysm and a stroke, leaving his 5-year-old son, Nathaniel Dancy Jr. desperate to find help.

The clever little guy called his grandmother and read off the letters on the sign of a furniture store near where the car had pulled over. While his grandmother tried frantically to identify where the two were, Nathaniel calmly instructed her to use her “active listening” skills, something he had learned in kindergarten.

That’s when his grandmother figured out that they were located at a furniture store on New Jersey’s Route 22. From there she was able to call for an ambulance.

“They saved each other’s lives,” Janelle Blackman, Nathaniel’s mom, told NBC. “My husband knew to pull over. My son knew to take action.”

What a fabulous example of reinforcing the need for each of us to listen and really hear what people are saying. After all it is how we obtain information, learn, better understand, and gain new insights. Perhaps most importantly, it is listening that builds the respect and trusted relationships that are an essential component of leadership.

So how do we become better at active listening and making a conscious effort to not only hear what another person is saying, but to understand the message being sent?

It begins with paying close attention to the other person. It means listening even when you get bored, there are distractions around you, or you lose focus. It especially requires listening with the intent to understand, rather than listening to reply or prepare a counter argument.

A good listener will instead concentrate on what is being said by the other person, nodding their head and saying “yes” and “uh huh”, and adding comments or asking questions to clarify what is being said. It could also mean paraphrasing by saying, “It sounds like you are saying” or “What I’m hearing is.”

As well as listening intently to understand, it will be important to respond appropriately in a respectful and understanding way. That will mean being honest, open, and candid in your response. It is fine to respectfully assert your own opinion as long as it is done in a way that reflects how you yourself would want to be treated.

In the end what it comes down to is that each of us needs to talk less and listen more.

While that’s often difficult to do — I’m still working on — it given that few of us have been taught an active, disciplined kind of listening, it is possible to break bad habits

After all, if a five year old can do it….

Ultimately it will be worth the effort in that listening is a powerful force that draws people toward us. Not only will a good listener never be lonely, he or she will also have far greater influence and credibility than those who prefer the sound of their own voice.

Posted on 08-21-13

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