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How gaining others’ confidence leads to lower stress levels
People who appear confident, enjoy many advantages. As well as being generally popular, they tend to be given more credibility, have their ideas listened to and are still respected, even when they voice unpopular opinions. This means that when other people have faith in you as both an individual and as a leader, your stress levels are lowered for several reasons: You have social support, you know that you have a positive reputation, you know that people will listen to you and you know that others perceive you as confident. This situation represents a virtuous cycle, in which your self-image develops positively, in response to others’ treatment of you.

How, then, can you gain the confidence of others?

Have belief in yourself
For many people, self-belief is a work in progress. It can take months, if not years, to develop a solid sense of self that stands independent of what other people think. This is especially true for those who were bullied or abused in childhood, or have had negative experiences with bullies at any age. The kind of parenting an adult experienced as a child can also have a huge impact on how they perceive themselves as they mature.

For example, if a child is told that their worth as a person depends on the grades they receive or how readily they can get people to bend to their will, that child is likely to grow up into a perfectionist, who sees nothing wrong with intimidating people into compliance. Equally, a child who is raised to believe that their worth lies only in helping other people, rather than standing up for their own rights, is likely to struggle with assertiveness as an adult. If you recognise within yourself a difficulty in locating a sense of self-worth and this has been a problem throughout your adult life, it may be time to consider seeking professional help. Ask your GP, or a member of your HR department, to recommend a suitable counsellor or coach. This kind of self-development can pay great dividends, in all areas of your life.

Have belief in your arguments
If you are putting forward an argument or an idea, especially if it is controversial or will have significant implications for many of those in attendance, you need to convey a high degree of belief, not only in yourself, but in the concept you are putting forward. If your mind goes blank when you are under pressure, take as many notes in with you as you need. Always ensure that your statements are backed up with strong statistics and logical arguments. As you prepare a presentation – whether formal or informal – ask yourself whether someone listening to it could pick holes in what you are saying. If so, prepare responses to their objections, well in advance.

Follow through on your promises
Consistency is a highly prized trait. Even those of us who love high-pressure work and running on adrenaline, appreciate people who show themselves to be reliable and do everything possible to deliver what they promise. If you promise a certain outcome, make sure it becomes a reality. Take care not to over-burden yourself by over-promising and under-delivering. It’s much better to promise only what you can be sure to deliver - and then to surprise everyone, by going above and beyond the call of duty.



You should also aim to be consistent in how you treat others. This means, not only treating an individual in the same way over a period of time, but refraining from displays of favouritism. Favouritism of any kind sends a clear message to those watching – “I am not a professional person - and I have few appropriate boundaries”. This is not the kind of image you want to create! It is entirely natural to prefer some of your colleagues over others, but you must make sure that this is never reflected in your behaviour in the workplace. If you socialise with colleagues outside of work, be careful to leave your “outside of work” dynamic where it belongs. Do not post evidence of your wild nights on social media. This will undermine your credibility at work, even if you are always on your best behaviour whilst on duty.

Model good behaviour
Whatever qualities you want to see in others, you should first develop for yourself. It is perfectly reasonable to want to be treated with respect and politeness by others, but do you extend them the same courtesy? Ask yourself honestly, whether you meet the standards you lay down for others. People are confident in - and admire - people who model consistency.

Show empathy and understanding
In keeping with the point above, try and understand other peoples’ points of view whenever possible - and take steps to understand where they are coming from. Do not dismiss a viewpoint immediately, without taking the time to examine it critically. Be willing to entertain the possibility that you may be wrong.

Admit your mistakes when appropriate
Whilst there are several qualities that people look for in an inspiring leader or colleague, being “too perfect”, or almost inhuman, is not endearing. It is fine to remind people, occasionally, that you are just like them. Admit to your mistakes, tell the occasional joke - and be prepared to admit that you too are human.

Activity
Imagine that you have been put in charge of a team that are falling behind on an important project. You have only a few days to improve their morale and increase their work rate – otherwise, the deadline may well be missed. With reference to the contents of this module, how would you go about inspiring their confidence in you?

Why advanced listening is conducive to stress reduction
Much stress is caused by simple misunderstandings and poor quality relationships. Therefore, it is important to relate well to others in the workplace. A key skill that fosters good relationships, is listening. Most of us think we know how to listen – if we refrain from talking and nod occasionally, we may give the appearance of listening, but how much are we really taking in?

The difference between ordinary (passive) and active (advanced) listening is the degree to which both people engage with one another. If you have ever been to a counsellor, you should have seen advanced listening in action – the counsellor should have been entirely focused on what you were saying. Sadly, for many people, therapy is the first and only time they have ever experienced someone actively listening to them and taking the time and effort to understand what they are saying.

Why is it so hard to truly listen?
There are several reasons why it’s hard for us to pay full attention to a person sitting before us.

We may have pressing worries: If you are concerned about what to have for dinner tonight, or the difficult phone call you need to make later on, you might struggle to devote your full attention to a conversation, even if it is important. Our modern lives are increasingly busy and it can be difficult to suppress the thoughts whirling around in our heads.

We may have broader problems weighing upon us: Along with practical matters to attend to, most people have recurring thoughts and worries that can intrude at the most impractical of times. For example, you may have been worried about your career direction, or whether to move to a new house, for some time - and these kinds of concerns tend to pop in and out of your head throughout the day.

We may be concerned about how others perceive us: Ironically, one impediment to active listening is concerns about our image! If you are worried about your social skills or the image you are conveying, you are less likely to be able to spare the resources needed to listen to the other person.

We may be eager to put our own views across, especially if the topic is controversial or meaningful: If you are discussing something about which you have especially strong views, you might be more interested in waiting for the next gap in conversation so that you can add your own opinions to the conversation, rather than respect what the other person is saying.

We may not respect the other person: If you find yourself regularly tuning out when a particular person is talking, consider whether you accord them even a basic level of respect. “Treat others as you would wish to be treated” is a good mantra to live by. This means that if you want to be listened to, you should do your utmost to listen to others.




We may have jumped to conclusions already: Sometimes we are guilty of “mind reading”, assuming perhaps that we know what someone is going to say, before they have even said it. We may be going by what we think we know about their personality, political views, or previously stated opinions. It’s true that some people are prone to repeating themselves, but, equally, most people have the capacity to surprise us on occasion.

How to engage in advanced, active listening
The following steps will turn you from an average listener into someone who is respected for their apparent ability to “tune in” to other people and create a deep sense of rapport. Create a reputation for yourself as a good listener and you will greatly enhance your career and personal prospects. When you appear to understand and respect other people and the information they share, you are perceived as trustworthy and your opinions worthy of respect.

Respond to what is being said, not what you imagine is being said
Do not assume that you can anticipate exactly what someone else is about to say. After all, if you were able to read minds, why would you need to have a conversation at all? Remember that people can - and do - change, particularly in response to new information, education, age and general life experience.

Ask for clarification, if you are uncertain
Do not worry about “looking stupid”. Sometimes people do not communicate their thoughts clearly. This is normal! However, it means that it is up to you to seek the clarification you need. To politely interrupt someone, raise one hand and say “Excuse me, sorry to interrupt, but I’d like to clarify a point you just made. When you said X, did you mean….?” As soon as you have understood, help them resume by saying “As you were saying…” It is better to break the flow of conversation, than risk later misunderstandings which could have been avoided.

Repeat back key points

Do not jump in with a “Me too!”
Empathy is an excellent trait - and it is a universal human tendency to connect with someone over shared experiences. However, active listening is about allowing the other person to be “heard” in the situation

Note their body language, not just the words they are saying
In person conversations have one tremendous advantage over those conducted by telephone – you can observe the other person’s body language. Not only should you pay attention to the words coming out of your conversation partner’s mouth, but you should take note of what they are telling you with their body. Are they sitting upright, legs apart, moving their arms freely and smiling? Open body language such as this communicates happiness and a sense of being at ease. Closed body language (crossed legs, crossed arms, slightly hunched posture) denotes defensiveness, anger and a reluctance to communicate.

Notice whether the tone of the conversation and the “tone” of their body language match. It is relatively easy to fake an upbeat mood on the telephone, but much harder to do it in person, because body language “leaks” clues. If there is a discrepancy between what someone is saying with their mouth and what they are saying with their body, it is time to question them further on whatever issue you are discussing. They are probably holding something back.


Minimise outside distractions
Always ensure that your telephone is set to silent mode, when you are having a meaningful discussion with someone. Do all you can to minimise other distractions. For example, consider moving to a quiet room, if the sound of other peoples’ chatter will present a distraction to you. Over time, you will become better able to tune it out, but early on in your active listening career, it may prevent you from fully engaging with your conversation partner.

Monitor your facial expressions
Aim for an expression of calm concentration, when you are listening to another person talk. Maintain eye contact, but do not stare. Unless the subject is especially serious, try and smile occasionally. Do not distract the speaker with high-intensity facial expressions. Respond naturally to what they are saying, but remember that as a listener, the attention ought to be focused on them.

Don’t fidget, or fiddle with objects
Playing with your coffee cup, or adjusting your watch strap, may seem harmless, but it can appear rude to the person who is speaking. Adopt a neutral, but comfortable position - and keep your body still. There are two exceptions to this rule. Firstly, it is a good idea to nod occasionally, to encourage the other party to keep talking. Secondly, mirroring the other person’s body language creates a sense of rapport. If they adopt a “happy” position (for example, sitting upright, using expressive gestures, smiling), do likewise. If, however, they sit hunched over, appearing slightly downcast, subtly move your body to mirror their body language “tone”.

Take notes, if the conversation is high-stakes
Even if you give a conversation your full attention, chances are you will forget at least some of what was said. In casual conversation, this does not matter, but if you are meeting to discuss an important topic, ask if the other person would mind if you either took notes or recorded the conversation. Some people find that the physical act of writing important points down helps cement concepts in their minds, whereas others find it merely distracting and much prefer to record what was said. However, be sure to ask your conversation partner’s permission, before recording what they say - and never post the data anywhere public, without their permission.

Practice mindfulness exercises, or meditation
Any practice that helps you develop the skill of focusing on the present, as opposed to the past, or various possibilities contained within the future, will help you become a better listener. Once you learn how to clear your mind of mental chatter and idle thoughts, you can give your full concentration to whoever is sitting in front of you. Try these simple meditation exercises:

Sit in a comfortable chair, a couple of feet away from a table. Place a familiar object on the table – a key, perhaps, or a mug. Turn off your telephone and keep other distractions to a minimum. Now focus your attention on this single object. Try and see it as though you are not familiar with it – as though you are discovering it for the first time. What shape is it? What colour is it? If you reach out and touch it, what kind of noise does it make? What is its texture? How heavy is it? As you do this exercise, other thoughts will float in and out of your consciousness. When they do, notice them, but pull your attention back to the present and on to the object in front of you.





If you find it difficult to sit still, try a walking meditation exercise. Find a quiet place to walk around outside. As you walk, pay attention to the information coming through your senses. How does it feel when your feet press against the ground? Are your arms swinging slightly, or are they hanging down loosely beside your body? What can you smell? What can you see? What can you hear? Just as in the above exercise, your task is to remain present centred, as far as possible. Drag your attention back, when it starts to wander. Don’t be surprised if these exercises are difficult at first. Aim to carry them out for five minutes at first, building up to fifteen minutes, most days of the week. As well as helping you remain in the present and, therefore, making you a better listener, they will also help you to feel more relaxed in general.

Practice with everyone
Practice your active listening skills with everyone, from the person who delivers your post, your colleagues at work, your parents, your friends and anyone else you meet, over the course of your day. You will be pleasantly surprised to see that the quality of your relationships will improve. You may also find that when people perceive that you are actually listening to them, rather than passively waiting for them to finish speaking, they will be more inclined to open up to you. This will allow you to get to know them on a deeper level. You may even make new friends, in unlikely places.

Activity
Sit opposite a partner. Set a timer for five minutes. Ask your partner to tell you about their week - and then actively listen to their answer. Use the steps above and try to actively listen to what your partner is saying. Now swap roles. How difficult was it to suspend judgement and cast aside your own worries and problems, if only for a few minutes? Compare your experience with that of your partner.