Three Steps To Improving the Way You Listen: key communication skills

Do you know someone who thinks they’re a great communicator but who drives you crazy? Maybe he has a fund of stories that he rolls out at every opportunity, whether you’ve heard them before or not.
Or maybe he caps every remark you make with one of his own. You know how it goes. You say, “I broke my foot,” and he says, “I did that last year and the doctor said it was the worst fracture he ever saw.”
A teenager I know started at a new school so she had to catch a different bus in the morning.The first day, she came home full of enthusiasm for a new friend.
“He’s so funny,” she said. “We just laughed all the way. I nearly fell off my seat.”
I bet you can guess how she felt after two weeks.
“I’m hoping he won’t be on the bus today,” she said. “He never shuts up and it’s all about himself.”
Yes, you may be more shy, less extrovert, more self-conscious than others: but chances are you’re a better communicator if you take the time to listen instead of talking.
Here’s how to do it in three easy steps:
1 Make sure you really understand what someone is saying to you. Ask questions to keep yourself focused on him. “What happened next?” or “Why do you think that happened?” Who/what/when/how/where/why questions are a great way to keep the conversation going.
2 Check back with him that you’ve understood. “So you didn’t enjoy the day at the sea?”
3 Watch his body language. If he’s looking down, or out of the window, he may be really upset. If he’s leaning back and smiling, things are OK. Be sensitive to his mood: his dating disaster may sound funny to you but if he’s devastated, it’s cruel to laugh.
TOP TIP You can help change  his mood if he’s miserable. Get him to look up at you and he’ll  feel a little better. We don’t say “chin up” for nothing. (Don’t say “chin up” by the way. It’s annoying. Just stand back so he looks up at you. That’s subtle.)
Got more top tips on listening? I love to hear them. Just leave a comment and spread the word.



Help To Tell Your Story in Court: Witness Intermediaries

Today’s post is a little different, as it’s especially for anyone who has communication problems (or knows someone who has) and is involved with the justice system in England and Wales.
For tips on verbal and non verbal communication, and links to other posts on the site, click here.

If you’re a child, or you’ve got autism or ADHD or had a stroke, a court appearance may seem scary.

A court is a strange place. The judge and lawyers wear wigs and gowns.  The room’s full of jury members, mysterious officials and odd members of the public, watching from the gallery.

Everyone uses strange language and talks too fast.

The good news is that the judge really wants you to be able to tell your story. He or she can make changes to help you.
  • There’ll be other adults there as well, whose job is to help you.
  • You may be able to talk to the court from a separate room, through a video link.
  • Maybe the judge and barristers will take their wigs off, so you can see that they’re ordinary people.
Witness Intermediary
You need to understand all the questions anyone asks you,so you may have a witness intermediary, like me, with you. 
I work with people who have been a victim of crime, or know about one. I also work with a defendant,  who’s been accused of something and is in court to stand trial. 
This is what people like me do. We’ve had special training and we’re registered with the Ministry of Justice.
  • We spend time with you, to find out a bit about you.
  • Then we write to the courts. We tell them about any problems you have with understanding or talking.
  • We meet with the judge and the lawyers before the trial.
  • We may be there with you, in the separate room, called the ‘live link’ room. 
  • We can ask for a break if you get tired.
  • We can suggest other ways that the lawyer asks you a question, so you understand it. 
  • We can point out to the judge if you get confused.
Remember, the judge wants you to have your say.
  • ·         if you have difficulty in listening and concentrating,
  • ·         if you find it hard to understand what people say,
  • ·         if talking is difficult,
ask the police or your solicitor if a Witness Intermediary might be able to help.
Here’s more information about special measures in England and Wales.

First Words: Help Your Child To Talk

Your baby’s learned to pay attention and to listen. He’s beginning to understand you when you talk to him and during his second year, at some point, he’ll start to use words himself.
In this extract from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk, we look at how he arrives at those very first words. 
If you’re a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.   
Speech: infants
Your baby depends on you to keep him alive, warm and comfortable. His first cries are the only way he can communicate with you, and he cries with a sound that you just can’t ignore. You’re right in your instincts to use his cries as a signal that you need to look after him. 
Doctors now know that the stress of prolonged crying encourages the production of the chemical cortisol, as Penelope Leach points out in her book “The Essential First Year – What Babies Need Parents to Know”. It’s true that humans all need cortisol, to help reduce inflammation and encourage the metabolism of some foods, too much in the brain can slow development. 
It doesn’t hurt your baby to cry a little: all babies cry sometimes, but remember that he is communicating with you in the only way he can, and be responsive.
When you feel you need to do something for him, you’re right. That’s what he’s telling you with his cries.
In the early days and weeks, you might notice he uses slightly different cries for a variety of purposes. He may have a hungry cry, for example, that you notice is different from the cry he uses when he’s uncomfortable. By 3 months, he’ll know he can use his voice to tell you when he’s pleased or unhappy; excited or tired, and from now on, you’ll hear plenty of coos, gurgles and shouts.
Speech: listening skills
Remember that second key: listening. He’s been listening all the time: to the things around; to human voices and, most importantly, to your voice. He’s heard your intonation patterns: the tune of your speech as your voice rises and falls. He’s heard your voice rise in a question, get louder when you’re annoyed, become low and soft when you play baby games with him.
Speech: practice
Meanwhile, he enjoys his own noises. “Ga ga” he says, his tongue falling naturally into that position. He likes it, repeats it and finds other sounds that are fun. Soon he starts babbling and he finds that you join in, encouraging all the noises, repeating strings of nonsense back to him. 
Between 6 months and 1 year, he plays often with babbling noises, trying out all the sounds of speech. He doesn’t stick to his native language, but includes sounds he’ll never need to use. Over time, his babbling begins to sound more and more like your speech, even though there are no real words there yet.
His strings of sounds get longer and he joins them together until he produces something that seems just like the intonation patterns of speech. At this point, parents sometimes feel their baby is trying to talk. He is playing with sounds, getting ready to launch himself into speech, and it’s not until he can sequence his sounds with a meaningful word that real speech begins.
Speech: feedback
At some point during this sound play, he hits on a combination of sounds that resemble a word.
“Da,” he says as his father picks him up, “Da-da-da.”
Delighted, his father smiles, cuddles him and repeats the word. What a reward. He tries that again. Every time he makes that combination of sounds, at the right time, you’ll celebrate, repeat it and reinforce it. As his accuracy improves, he gets it right every time, encouraged by your excited feedback. There it is – “daddy”: his first word.
Your child’s first word may be something different. Maybe he says “Mama” first. 
If you’re finding these extracts useful, and can’t wait to read the rest of the ebook, just download How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter to your Kindle in seconds for only £3.53 ($5.73).

Help Your Child Talk: Attention, Listening and Understanding Checklists

Here’s extract 18 from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk.
If you’d like to get in touch, maybe with a question on babies, toddlers and language development, or any communication topic, feel free to email me through the Contact Me tab at the top of the blog. Questions you ask may find their way (anonymously) into the new Frequently Asked Questions page. find it by clicking the tap at the top of the page.

If you’re a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.
This week is a bit of a recap of some of the things we’ve looked at over the past few weeks. Here’s a very brief set of simple checklists of things to remember with your baby and toddler, covering the first three keys to language skill: attention, listening and understanding. 

Attention skills: babies
  • Make eye contact.
  • Speak gently.
  • Notice which sense your baby is using.
  • Play peep-bo and sing nursery rhymes.
  • Limit the number of toys around him.
  • Let him sleep and be quiet.

Attention skills: toddlers

  • Alternate quiet times with activity.
  • Limit TV and encourage his own activities.
  • Watch for overstimulation and let him relax quietly.
  • Call his name and wait for him to look at you.
  • Get down to his level so he can see you.
  • Keep calm when he gets frustrated.
  • Consider signing with him.
  • Tell bedtime stories.
  • Sing nursery rhymes.
Listening: babies
  • Babble and play cooing games, encouraging your baby to enjoy babbling.
  • Say his name or touch his hand to gain his attention.
  • Make eye contact and smile at your baby when you talk.
  • Turn off the TV and radio for a time every day while you play.
  • Sing nursery rhymes together.
Listening: toddlers
  • Keep to a routine, with quiet times for stories, games and puzzles 
  • Include times for noisy play and letting off steam. 
  • Tidy his toys occasionally so he attends to one thing at a time. 
  • Smile when your child talks to you. 
  • Turn off the TV and radio for a time every day while you play. 
  • Make a quiet corner with somewhere to sit and draw, colour or look at books.
  • Repeat simple words in many different contexts.
  • Broaden your toddler’s understanding of the world by taking him out to different places.
  • Talk to him about the things he sees.
  • Keep the language you use simple: one or two words in his first year.
  • Emphasise important “key” words in a sentence.
  • Place a new word at the end of a sentence. 

 If you’re finding these extracts useful, and can’t wait to read the rest of the ebook, just BUY NOW. Download How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter to your Kindle in seconds for only £3.53 ($5.73).

Communication Skills That Work: Ten Ways Pauses Improve Understanding

The pause can become your best communication friend. Use it. Become a clearer, more charismatic communicator as you speak less and pause more, whether in one-to-one conversations or talking to a whole room. Never underestimate the impact of a brief hiatus. Learn to embrace the rhythms of speech, and make use of those silent moments.

Here’s how:
• Pause to allow your listener to catch up. Always think of your listener’s angle. Research shows that both children and adults understand best when your speed is moderate and you pause several times a minute. Remember that your ideas are familiar to you. You already know what you’re about to say, while it’s all new to your conversation partner. He needs decoding time.

• Pause even more when you talk to a bigger audience. Everyone in the room has extra distractions all around her and she needs extra time to take in your words. She has to hear them clearly, blocking out the man next to her when he sniffs or coughs. She needs to to remember each word long enough to extract its meaning, teasing out your grammatical markers, like word endings, and word order in the sentences. The bigger the audience, the longer your pauses should be.

• Pause to make sure you choose the best word for clarity, accuracy and to avoid offense. Notice how an excellent speaker feels comfortable when she stops and thinks, while her listener waits, breathless, until she selects exactly the right word. A nervous or careless speaker who talks vaguely and dully about ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ quickly loses your attention.

• Pause to let the other person speak. Unless you’re a politician with just one minute to deliver your sound bite, be polite. Let your conversation partner have his say. Listen to what he says during your pause and take account of it in your response. Have you ever met someone known as the life and soul of the party who tells strings of jokes and stories without stopping to interact with you? It doesn’t take long for you to want to get away from him, does it?

• Pause to let the other person think. If he stops to find the right word, give him time. Chances are, it’ll be worth waiting for. If you interrupt, you’ll never know.

• Pause after an important phrase to let your words sink in. President Obama always followed “Yes, we can!” with a pause. Rushing straight on to your next point destroys the moment.

• Pause to make sure your audience is listening and to check their reactions. Stopping for a second gives you time to register body language. It allows to see whether your conversation partner is nodding along in agreement, or gazing over your shoulder to find someone more interesting.

• Pause to review what you just said and check where you need to add clarity. As you use your pauses to watch your partner or your audience, notice frowns or puzzled expressions. Maybe you need to add a few words, or ask a question, to help with understanding.

• Pause to gain your audience’s attention even before you begin a speech. Walk to your place, stop, look around the room and count to five, then begin. This shows that you are completely in control and adds to your charisma. You may feel nervous, and you gain time to breathe out and then in, ready to go. Practice it at home.

• Pause often during difficult conversations. A therapist often uses pauses to allow her client to think, react and review the topic. Use a pause with your child, friend or partner, giving him space to express himself honestly and sincerely. You may be surprised at the results.

More communication skills posts you may find useful:

Communication Skills That Work: Ten Tips on Dealing with Angry People

How To Make Positive Suggestions and Improve Your Child’s Behaviour: Communication Skills That Work

How to Give Advice: Communication Skills That Work

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills: Ten Best Tips for Better Understanding