"We were given two ears and one mouth for a good reason" is the mantra of crisis negotiators - twice as much listening as talking will help you to build a rapport. How often do we actually do this, not that often I would suggest?
Additionally, how often have you tried to help someone by immediately problem-solving instead of finding out more about their problem first?
When communicating with others, particularly those who are seeking help, do not let your brain control what you say. When we are helping others, we get excited and go into a similar zone to that of the fight-or-flight response. This interferes with our ability to listen.
Control yourself with a few simple techniques;
- Listen to what the person is saying - do not guess their answer or hear only what you want to hear and never ever say the first thing that comes int your head because it is usually wrong.
- Resist the urge to interrupt - allow them to finish off their sentence completely before responding and do not finish their sentence for them.
- Allow them to take their time - do not rush someone, allow them to tell you everything in their own time. Take long, slow, deep, quiet breaths and listen.
- Stay focussed - do not let your mind wander, listen intently to every word so that you get the entire message.
- Don't guess - try not to think of your next question while they are still talking.
- Use open questions - start your sentences with either 'what' or 'how' to encourage the other person to talk more.
- Control your volume, speed and tone - keep your volume low, your rate of speech slow, and your voice calm. We mirror these three things when we communicate, as well as the length of our sentences.
- Don't take it personally - if you are being criticised, do not get angry, learn from it or dismiss it.
- Control your expressions - unconscious bias (I prefer to use subconscious bias) shows as micro-expressions on our face. Control them by smiling but only if appropriate of course.
- Paraphrase - when the other person has finished, go back over what they have said to confirm that you have got it right. Do not say that you 'understand' because you don't.
By making it about them you will gain empathy, trust, and respect. And you may not even have to problem-solve.