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In order to be a good listener, consider these tools to help you maintain focus.

Do you find it difficult to maintain attention when listening to others? Most of us do.

My husband is a slow, thoughtful talker. He considers his words and their impact before uttering them. Meanwhile I’ve made assumptions about him as I wait for a response. I’ve either restated the question, thinking he did not hear me or I have given up on getting an answer and have moved to a new subject. Am I just a horrible spouse? No, I’m a normal listener.

We hear between 400-500 words per minute. Unfortunately, we speak at 135-150 words per minute. I use these tools to assist me in hearing what others say.

Tool #1: Watch Body Language for Mixed Messages

I love to observe Body Language. One thing I look for is to see if the words are congruent with the body language. In TV commercials, does the sales person shout about his “Best Deal in Town, as he shakes his head from side to side, negatively communicating his inability to deliver on his verbal promises?

One of the most well publicized examples of mixed messages is when former President Bill Clinton was questioned during the Monica Lewinsky trial. He verbally denied his sexual involvement with Ms. Lewinsky, all the while, his head kept bobbing up and down affirmatively.

Tool 2: Mirroring

To keep my attention focused on the speaker, I may mirror their body movements and posture. Two things are accomplished. It keeps me listening and watching them, while not allowing my mind to drift off. It also may make them more comfortable as my mirroring movements can show that I am similar to them.

Tool 3: Well Prepared Questions

Before all client meetings, I construct a set of well thought out questions that will uncover problems, detect dissatisfaction with the current service supplier and discover preferences, priorities, timelines and budgets.

To gather the data I need, I use a combination of closed and open-ended questions.

Closed –end questions are answered with a simple, one-word answer. It’s either YES or NO!

Open-Ended questions are best remembered as the 5-W’s and the One Big –H. For those who recall their writing professor’s lessons, every story must contain the answers to these questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

Listening gets easier when we’re equipped with tools that keep us anchored.

Mary A. Redmond is a professional speaker, author, coach and trainer. She specializes in negotiation, body language, listening and asking for more of what you want in your life at work, home or play. Contact her to speak at your next meeting, conference, trade show or special event. [email protected], 913-422-7775.