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by Jeff Napier, copyright 2011-2013

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Creative Listening

Beginning Technique - No Experience Required

A creative listener asks carefully designed questions to help people think about things in new ways. The results can be fantastic, resulting in inventive solutions to problems, overcoming frustration, worry and mild depression, or new ways to relate with friends, family, and coworkers. 

Creative Listening is essentially a tiny subset of NLP. It is free and unrestricted, takes about 5 minutes to learn, and is super-effective in so many ways:

* Help others understand things they've been thinking about in entirely new ways, often resulting in problems solved, attitudes adjusted, and progress made.

* Understand things you've been thinking about in entirely new ways.

* Quickly establish rapport with clients, customers, teenagers, parents, etc.

* Express criticism without offending, and elicit changed behaviors.

* Help people feel better about themselves and their lives. 

In just a few minutes, you can learn enough to communicate more effectively with family, friends, and yourself. In just a few hours you can become professional, offering your services as a Creative Listener to others. 

You can use Creative Listening with a neighbor in the supermarket, or in a professional session, or anything in-between. You can use it with friends, family, clients, customers, associates - anyone, young or old. 

Easy Steps to Creative Listening

Step 1

Respectfully challenge ambiguities.

You'd be amazed at what people leave out of conversations. Interestingly, many of these details have never really been analyzed by the speaker. So, when you ask for more detail, very interesting new thoughts can develop.

For instance:

Everyone says. - Who specifically says that?

It can't be done. - What exactly prevents it from being done?

She hates me. - In what specific way does she let you know that she hates you?

The relationship is in trouble. - How's it in trouble? 

The situation is hopeless. - What is the situation, exactly? Or, What tells you it's hopeless?

You might think this rude or offensive, but in most cases, when you respectfully ask for more detail, the speaker is honored - knowing that someone truly wants to know what they are thinking.

Step 2

Ask questions that cause people to think about things in new ways. Here is a typical set:

What would you like? This is a good place to start in many cases. Variations can include: What's on your mind? What do you want?

What would having that do for you? This will ofter cause the speaker to zoom out and see the bigger picture - often for the first time. 

And what would having that do for you? Sometimes the degree of zoom isn't enough - even when you think it is. You'd be surprised what comes up when you zoom out twice.

How will you know when you have it? A surprising way to zoom in for a closer look.

When you have it, what will you lose that you value? This will typically bring the speaker to a dead stop for a minute, and can bring up all sorts of useful objections. Knowing those objections will reveal reasons for procrastination, hesitation, and defocusing activities.

What's the opposite of that? Another viewpoint that many people have never considered in ideas they may have considered often. This can get them out of a loop.

How will your friends, family, significant other react when you have it? Another way to find hidden blocks.

If your _____ was a bathtub to fill with something, what would you put in it? This is just an example, you could use all sorts of similar questions here - ones that the listener doesn't expect, which will jump them off their typical track - often with spectacular results.

Now that we've discussed it a bit, what would you like? Don't be surprised if the answer is quite different from the original answer the first time you asked this question.

What good things come to someone who _____? Generally, this is a twist that opens new channels of consideration. The blank is often filled with what the person is doing now. For instance: What good things come to someone who does not start a camera store?

What would someone have to believe _____? Much like the question above, you can twist it backward, and be ready to hear some very interesting results.

What's the first step to getting _____? This is a good way to zoom in, and see the first and most immediate objection. 

What should I write here in my notes? This often elicits a more honest self-appraisal.

In asking all these questions, leave plenty of time for answers. Although at first awkward, you can wait even 15 seconds without saying another word. The person with whom you are speaking will feel a need to fill the silence, and may come up with something very interesting indeed, if given sufficient silent time. 

You can ask these, and other questions, in any sequence that seems right. Indulge your curiosity. Don't be afraid of questions that seem too personal or prying. If you ask these well, and follow the steps below, not only will you get the answers you seek, but the person with whom you are speaking will feel quite honored that you care enough to ask such deep things.

If the conversation veers off-track, you can steer it back by saying something like, "Thank you," or "Yes, I can see how that would happen," but then ask for specific information that's back on track. For instance, if the person starts talking about exactly how he built a bookshelf, you might say, "I see you really enjoyed that project. So, what would you..."

You can guide the conversation to what's called a 'well-formed outcome.' Ultimately, you'd like the person you're conversing with to state a desire in the positive, have it be something s/he can initiate and maintain, and have a manageable feasibility. 

Step 3

It has been said that 93% of communication is non-verbal. You have experienced that. For instance, someone may say that their neighbor is 'alright,' but as they say it, you see their shoulders rise up, their facial features tighten, their respiration becomes shallow. In this situation, do you learn more from their words ('alright'), or from their physiology? You can do a lot with this 93%. 

You can build tremendous unconscious rapport by mirroring posture, gestures and audio tonality. If you wait approximately 7 seconds and then position yourself the same way, if you moderate your speed, volume and pitch about the same way, if you play back gestures, your listener will become more trusting, more willing to share deeper thoughts and emotions, and more willing to listen carefully to what you have to say. Don't take my word for it - try it out. Surprisingly, you won't be 'busted' unless you do it very blatantly. In most cases, you can mirror people very completely, and they never suspect a thing.

Backtracking is very valuable. This means that you repeat certain key phrases back to the person you are conversing with, generally several seconds or even minutes later. For instance, if your user states that something good is 'tubular,' and if you use that same word in a similar context, this will put them at ease - they'll feel honored - and heard. Backtracking is actually the opposite of a technique known as ' active listening' in which you rephrase what you've heard to prove that you understood it. Backtracking has the rather surprising effect of making the subject believe even more that you understood what was said.

Noticing physiology can let you know when it is time to shift gears. You can read when you've lost someone's attention, when you have asked for too much detail, gone into an area that brings sadness, and so on. With practice, you can read where to focus more attention. For instance, as the conversation shifts to parents, you may see physiology changes that indicate something more needs to be discussed about a mother or father.

Step 4

Remember what you are trying to accomplish. Quite often, your story, your attitude, your concerns creep into the conversation. In many cases, that's counter-productive. The moment you start coaching or telling your story, your effectiveness as a creative listener weakens. 

Depending on what you wish to accomplish, you may not have to tell the person with whom you're talking anything specific. Simply giving them the opportunity to talk can help them feel better, see things in new ways, and so on, especially if you use steps 1 and 2. Source-1

Step 5

Sometimes, you may feel a need to actively create change.

So how do you do that without breaking the rapport, while still being a creative listener? Speak metaphorically. (Details here).

 

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