I want to focus today on both how it is that we become better listeners and also how it is that we calmed our own internal conversation such that we’re able to focus more effectively on the ones that we’re having in the outside world.

In Western culture, a part of what we consider to be good listening is having good eye contact. The part of being a good listener is maybe allowing someone to have the space to break eye contact from time to time and to dip inside of their own mind to get creative or to scour their brain for the memories that they want to present you with and that means that they’re going to have to be accessing a range of different eye patterns.

We know, for example, that if someone is using their imagination and being creative in their mind typically their eyes are going to go upwards. If they break eye contact with you frequently because they need to be looking up it just means that they’re really thinking about what it is that they want to say or they’re needing to put on visual representations of things in order to then translate that into vocabulary and language so similarly they may be looking down quite a lot of the time which could indicate that they are also doing some self-talk at the same time or potentially tapping into their emotions and starting to feel certain feelings about what it is that they’re saying.

It’s important that you as a listener don’t disconnect in those moments and that you allow them to have the freedom of breaking the eye contact and maybe even taking inspiration from around the room.

Sometimes it’s important to interrupt someone’s train of thought because you needed to clarify something or sometimes it’s important to interrupt not just for your own sake maybe to interrupt their emotional state that they might be getting into as well.

Give them some kind of a visual clue that there’s something you wanted to throw in there before they move on to the next chunk of what they wanted to say. It might also mean that you really use your sensory skills for listening and tuning into the natural pauses that are going to happen as they begin to share what they’re sharing with you. For example, when I talk there are pauses that come up because I need to breathe every now and again. If you wanted to interrupt me then you might choose to do so at a time when I’m naturally pausing for air. You’ll notice that as people speak there are very often kind of almost like musical peaks and troughs in what they’re saying and I mean that from a speed perspective rather than a pitch. When someone’s perhaps really fired up about what they’re saying and they just need to get one of those words out as quickly as possible and then there’s other points when they might be taking a bit more consideration over what it is that they’re thinking and what they’re saying and there are going to be more natural gaps and pauses that show up during those points wait at least until they’ve got to the end of the sentence before you jump in with whatever it was that you wanted to ask, add or contribute too.

All of these will give you a sign or give them a sign rather that you are engaged in what they are saying but you’re not just looking to kind of overlay your thoughts and ideas on top of theirs and not taking theirs into proper regard. When someone is sharing something with you that’s important to them. It’s super important that you let them stay on the topic even if what they’re sharing might actually be quite uncomfortable and painful for them to be sharing or for you to be listening too.

You can’t interrupt what they’re saying to go see a squirrel because that’s going to give them a really clear sign that you’re not interested in what they’re saying right now or that you’re not taking it seriously enough. If someone is like leading their heart to you and sharing with you their innermost thoughts and feeling you have to stay on topic with them and though there might be a really interesting dancing squirrel outside that you want to draw their attention to if it is appropriate for you to do that because of the rapport that you’ve already got with each other then you’re still going to do it in a sensitive way. It’s going to sound something like my thoughts around what you’re saying are just firing off in so many directions at the moment and I want us to continue this conversation, however, I’m getting wildly distracted by the dancing squirrel outside and before we continue I just wanted to point that out to you all right now.

Then moving forward, you might repeat back to them elements of what they’ve just said. This is another way for you to kind of log it in your own brain make sure that you stay attentive but to also let them know ‘I’m here, I’m listening, I’m fully on board with what you’ve got to say to me’. There is a particular technique that we teach in NLP Master Practitioner training which is called null set and we have a lot of little techniques in Master Practitioner training that are easy, they just seem so small and insignificant. It’s almost like it’s a couple of questions like how is this powerful in any way what does this even do it’s all about the delivery with these particular techniques. We have maybe four maybe five techniques within NLP Master Practitioner where the script is super short and there’s maybe just three or four different questions that you ask throughout the entire process at most.

Some of them just have to and you kind of go well I’m going to ask them these two questions like this conversation going to be over really fast but the point is, it’s about, asking the same question over and over again but also asking it in a very specific kind of a way. For example, the question that comes up in the null set ‘is tell me more about that now?’ If someone sits down they go through a little Aloha and they start off the conversation and then they reach a point where they think they shared enough and then you respond ‘with tell me more about that’?

There’s a certain way in which you need to say that sentence in order for it to segue from where they are to them actually sharing more with you. If they are speaking quite fast, your response is going to sound more like ‘okay, tell me more about that’. You can’t go into your deep hypnotic trance-like chilled out voice because they’re going to get frustrated even if it’s just a minuscule amount of frustration but that frustration will lead to them saying something like ‘I’ve just told you everything’ because they’re working at a level up here at that moment in time. If, however, you then manipulate and this is probably your toughest case scenario is dealing with someone like me who’s talking at this kind of a speed sharing with you what they want to share thinking that they’ve got all the words out there’s nothing more to say about it and then you come back where they tell me more about that what you need to do is you need to match their pace.

This is so important you need to match their pace but also we have a rule in NLP about rapport building which is pace, pace, pace! What that means is you do exactly what they’re doing. You’re gonna start with the pace that they’re currently at and then you do more of that and then you do more of that so it’s pace pace pace! Which means you need to do a lot of pacing first before you can start leading them to where you want to take them to so that’s something that starts out as may be quite a surface level maybe even mundane important conversation can be taken to a much deeper level where you start to find out things about their values, their beliefs, what they’re operating from internally and you can get there just by repeating the question ‘tell me more about that’ and you might repeat back to them the last couple of things that they said or maybe something that seemed important within what they had said and then as you repeat it back to them because we’re pacing and leading we gradually gonna take them from the rate and speed that they’re currently thinking and working at to a lower one so that we start to take them into a light trance state and at that stage they start to become much more unconscious which means that the information that they’re going to be sharing with us is coming from a deeper level.

It’s not just this kind of bad surface level conscious stuff as we progress through what they are saying pulling back on elements of it and representing it back to them and finishing that sentence with and ‘tell me more about that’ we can gradually begin to slow things down taking them into that light trance state and into that deeper level of thinking.

As a listener, it’s more like you have some control over the conversation. It’s like you are somewhat orchestrating what happens next but without challenging the content or disagreeing with or passing an opinion on the content in any way. However, it does force you to really tune in and listen because you need to maybe pick up upon and repeat back just the most important parts of what they’ve said. You need to be fully tuned in because you’re listening to the pace and speed with which they are saying and that’s going to give you far more clues about what it is that they’re communicating than any of the words that they say to you will and that is the artful skill to listening.

By Gemma Bailey