Strategies that work to listen for what’s not being said

Posted by David Grossman on Tue,Feb 12, 2013

listening, listen, body language, dialogue, listening strategies 

How does one get better at paying attention to what’s not being said?

Let’s look at a communication interaction from the sender and receiver’s perspective.

First, here are some things that get in the way from a sender’s perspective, and why it’s so critical to listen for what’s not being said:

  • Sometimes, we don’t have the words or vocabulary, nor the emotional self awareness, to express what we’re feeling and get our needs out there.
  • Other times, we are afraid to express our true thoughts or feelings

In both cases, when we don’t know how to talk about a topic, the result is that we either avoid a topic, or communicate in vague terms that might seem irrelevant to a listener and get glossed over

From a listener’s perspective, what gets in the way?

  • We talk too much and don’t listen enough
  • We listen to respond instead of listen to understand
  • We’re not listening for word clues or noticing body language that signify there’s additional information that is yet to be uncovered

What then can one do to better listen for what’s not being said?

  • Be quiet and listen to understand (don’t think about what you will say next)
  • Be curious.  If you’re not a naturally curious person, think to yourself, “I’m curious about what this person has to say.”
  • Listen for the underlying issue or emotion (a fight about dirty clothes on the floor isn’t about the clothes on the floor; there’s a larger issue at play)
  • Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand before moving on from a topic.  Listen and clarify. Repeat, as needed.
  • Trust your gut if you’re feeling like you’re not getting the complete story.
  • Notice any body language changes (i.e. change in position, facial movements), which may be a cue or clue to ask more questions
  • Listen for any emotional clues that signal there might be more to the story
  • When we communicate effectively, we understand where another person is coming from.  If you don’t understand where someone else is coming from (you don’t need to agree with them), it means you need to ask more questions
  • Ask yourself in your head during a pause in the conversation: “What’s not being said?”

There’s not a formula to learn how to listen for what’s not being said, and it will vary based on the person, relationship, or situation.  That said, the strategies above are worth considering.


What one strategy to listen for what’s not being said would help you be more effective?

- David Grossman


Tags: Internal Communication, Communication Skills, Leadership Effectiveness & Planning

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