Performance Communication

To really listen, you need to listen between the lines

How many times have you been in a situation when a person’s mouth said one thing, but everything else about them seemed to be saying something else?

For example, when you ask your boss if she has time to discuss a problem, and she looks at her watch, lets out a heavy sigh, and says, “Uh, sure. Okay.” Or, a customer comes to you with a problem and you think you have it resolved, but when you ask if he’s satisfied, he says, “Yes,” but his face still looks really unhappy.

When others are trying to communicate with us, they sometimes don’t know what to say or how to say what they’re really thinking or feeling. Alternatively, there are times when people are afraid to tell the truth. However, their true thoughts and true feelings don’t just go away because they deny them with their words. They “come out” in other ways, such as through facial expressions, vocal qualities, or body language.

So what can we do about getting at the truth, at listening between the lines of what’s being said and the truth? Here are three tips that will help!

Listen for the truth by paying attention to the speaker’s word choice.

For example, there’s a big difference between a customer saying, “Yes, that will fix the issue for me,” and saying, “I guess . . . if that’s all you can do.”

Ask questions to bring out the truth.

In the example above, when the customer says, “I guess . . . if that’s all you can do.” Rather than saying, “Okay, great,” say, “It sounds like this might not be what you want. What can I do to make this right for you?

Ask for clarification when a person’s nonverbal communication contradicts his or her words.

When your boss says she has time to talk, but hesitates when she does so and looks at her watch with a concerned expression, it might be best to say, “It seems like now might not be the best time for you. What would be a better time for me to come by?”

While there’s no magic mind-reading pill you can take to listen to the thoughts and feelings people are unwilling or unable to state, these strategies will help you to help others share the truth. In fact, in many instances, you’ll see and hear their “relief” when they realize that you’ve gotten the message they really wanted to share.

What other strategies do you have for “listening between the lines?” Comment and share them here!

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