by Steve Adubato, PhD

Recently, Dr. Mehmet Oz talked about his effort to improve his own listening skills. While Oz is a terrific communicator on television, and has been a big hit with his daytime series “Dr. Oz”, he openly acknowledged recently that his own listening skills aren’t what they need to be.

To his credit, Dr. Oz said that he can in fact be too intellectual in his approach to communication, which often triggers him going in to what I call “lecture mode”. Many of us are all guilty of it, but when we do it, we forget to listen. We forget to engage. We get caught up with the sound of our own voice, and ultimately forget that great communication is always a two-way experience. It’s a conversation and not a monologue. Clearly, great listening skills are essential for a doctor communicating with a patient. However, improving your listening is just as important for any professional regardless of your field. With this in mind, consider these tips.

--As soon as someone starts to say something that you think you are going to disagree with—STOP! Here’s why. Most of us, when we disagree, begin to plan our counterargument. We mentality and emotionally stop listening and prepare to talk. I call it “communication autopilot”. When this happens, the outcome is usually bad. You need to stop, realize the direction you are going in, and recommit yourself to truly listening to the rest of the other person’s point. You may be surprised by what you hear. Then again, your first inclination may have been right. But, at least you are responding to a fully communicated thought and not only a portion of it.

--Consider acknowledging someone’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. It’s fine to disagree, but the problem occurs when you are convinced that only one of you can be right or that there is only one point of view and of course it must be yours. That’s absurd. This thinking only gets in the way of you fully listening. Tell yourself, “We can agree to disagree?” When you do this, you tend to become a more engaged listener because you are less likely to see it as a competition between competing points of view, rather an opportunity to learn more about how someone else sees the world.

--Acknowledge up front how much time and attention you are able to give the other person. Most of us don’t do this, which in turn causes us to rush by interrupting, talking faster, and trying to end the conversation as quickly as possible. However, by saying, “Mary, I’m really interested in what you have to say but I want you to know I need to run into a meeting in 5 minutes. So, if we can’t finish this conversation we can pick it up later.” This won’t stop Mary from droning on, but you have set the parameters for your communication. It will allow you to be more honest with not just your words, but your body language. You won’t be rushing out the door, thereby communicating to Mary that you are not interested when in fact you are simply in a big hurry.

My favorite listening technique is to ask really good questions. I’m convinced asking probing, open ended questions remains one of the most underutilized communication tools at a professional’s disposal. Even if you interrupt with a question, you are still practicing good listening because it keeps the other person engaged and interested the conversation. This kind of interruption can be quite effective.