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Expand Your Verbal Intelligence

Expand Your Verbal Intelligence

Expand Your Verbal Intelligence

    The most common method of thinking in the Western world is verbal thinking. Although we have a range of intelligences including numerical, musical, spatial, emotional, verbal and kinaesthetic intelligences, it is verbal intelligence that we depend on most. We tend to think and express ourselves in words.

    It can be argued that mastery of the use of words and verbal intelligence is the most important skill we develop because acquiring further skills depends on our comprehension of language. A tremendous proportion of the early learning for an infant is in developing verbal skills – learning to speak, to understand speech, to read and to write. Whether a baby is brought up in Beijing, Madrid, Sydney or Moscow it will surely spend thousands of hours acquiring expertise in its native language. He or she will become proficient with the amazing range, power, complexity and sophisticated subtleties of language. However, once a certain competence has been acquired most people stop developing verbal skills.

    Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between people’s abilities with words and range of vocabulary and with success in their chosen fields. People who can express themselves clearly are perceived as more intelligent and higher status. They are accorded greater respect. So why do we not continue to enhance our verbal skills? Why do we stop doing what we spent most of our early years doing?

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    The trouble is that we take our verbal abilities for granted. Once we have mastered reading, writing and speaking we move on to other things. We have acquired the most important tool in our mental toolbox. We depend on it for all sorts of tasks but we rarely sharpen it. It makes better sense to maintain, enhance and extend the tool. Here are some ways we can do that.

    1. Get a good dictionary and thesaurus

    Two of the most loyal companions on your desk should be a dictionary and a thesaurus. Use the dictionary to learn the meanings and derivations of new words you encounter. Also use it to check the exact meanings and spellings of words that you are not sure of. The thesaurus is very helpful whenever you are writing and need an alternative to a word in order to avoid repetition or to achieve a variation in meaning. Your computer probably offers a spellchecker and a thesaurus so by all means use them but they should be seen as handy digital aids to be used alongside the mighty physical volumes.

    2. Read

    It may seem silly to advise someone who is reading this text that they should read, but in the modern world we are so busy with work and we are bombarded with so much information by TV broadcast, telephone and internet that reading books and articles can be squeezed out of our agenda. Reading the works of really good writers is one of the best ways to develop our abilities with words. Modern and classic novels, leading non-fiction books and top quality newspaper and magazine articles are all important sources for us. How often do you find time to read poetry? Try some new poems and re-read old favourites for inspiration and appreciation of the sublime skills of the poet.

    Reading works that are well written helps at two levels. It will increase our understanding of concepts and our acquisition of knowledge and at the same time it helps develop our core skills at comprehension, vocabulary and expression. Most of our reading should be speed reading so that we are taking in the information rapidly. There are various books and courses on speed reading. However, when we occasionally encounter a piece of text which is extremely cogent or well written we should re-read it, taking time to examine what it is that makes it so successful. We should savour the words and metaphors that the author uses, analyse his or her arguments, underline the key points and perhaps make a note to mimic some of this style in our own writing.

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    If you are fortunate enough to have a partner who likes reading then try reading aloud to each other. Choose an interesting short piece and read it for your partner with feeling and emphasis. Children learn by listening to their parents or teachers read and by reading to them. We can do the same and it should be a pleasurable activity. When you have read the piece you can discuss it with your partner. What did each of you get out of it? What aspects of the author’s style did you like most? What points did the author make and do you agree with them? Play at being students again.

    3. Capture new words

    There is a regular feature in the Reader’s Digest magazine entitled, ‘It pays to expand your Word Power’. It is sound advice. Whenever we bump into new words we should turn to the dictionary and spend a moment learning the meaning and derivation of the word. It is easy to skip new words and race on through the text so we need discipline if we are not to lose this opportunity.

    Say we come across the word philology. It means the science of language and its historical development. It comes from the ancient Greek word philos, meaning a friend, and the Greek word logos, meaning a word – so philology’s roots means love of words. While we are in this section of the dictionary we might notice that philanthropy, philately, philharmonic and philosophy all use the same Greek root of philos and they all refer to the love of something. If we do this we are on our way to becoming a philologist, someone who loves words and the studies the science of language.

    As you build your vocabulary you should try to use the new words in context as this helps you to remember them. However, it can look pompous or pretentious to use many long and obscure words in everyday speech. The main benefit of having a large vocabulary is the ability to use a word with exactly the right meaning at a time when it is appropriate. A secondary benefit is that we better understand intellectual writing. There are many guides to good writing style and you have to find one that suits you. In general it is better to keep your written and spoken sentences short and clear. But do not hesitate to occasionally use an unusual word when it conveys exactly the meaning you require.

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    4. Write, rewrite and edit

    We all write, whether it is a text message on a cell phone, an email message or a novel, and we can all improve our writing. A good way to improve your writing is to read over what you have written and ask yourself these questions:

    1. Does what I have written express exactly what I mean?
    2. Will it be clear and comprehensible to the reader?
    3. Can I make it more concise or more accurate?

    We should look for superfluous words and sentences. Most of our digital photographs can be improved by cropping in order to focus on the subject. In exactly the same way, most of our written work can be improved by cutting out unnecessary or repetitive elements.

    5. Play with Words

    Children learn language by playing with words, testing, experimenting, making mistakes and being gently corrected. We should adopt a playful attitude towards words and treat them as friends. Word games will increase your verbal dexterity and intelligence rating. Many standard IQ tests use word puzzles. Anagrams, cryptic crosswords, code-breakers, word searches, dingbats (also known as rebuses) and other verbal conundrums are excellent mental exercise. Scrabble is ideal in this regard. If you want to play it seriously you will have to learn many obscure short words that use the high value letters. The dictionary game is simple but fun. One person reads out a definition from the dictionary and others have to identify the word. The reader can choose a common word but start with one of its less common meanings.

    Practice improves your performance with word puzzles which is one reason why people can prepare for IQ tests and improve their scores in them.

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    6. Listen to Yourself

    In just the same way that you critically review your draft writing in order to sharpen it, you should try to do the same with your speech. If it is possible, try to view some video clips of yourself speaking. This is particularly useful it you are rehearsing for an important talk or presentation. Most people are surprised to discover that they display a number of errors or bad habits in their everyday speech. For example many people pepper their talk with filler words or phrases such as ‘like,’ ‘well,’or ‘you know’. Hesitation, repetition, rambling and mumbling are other common faults.

    Rudyard Kipling wrote, ‘Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.’ They can paint amazing images, inspire and intoxicate. If you continually work on developing your range of words and skills with words then you will reap the rewards. Blow your mind!

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    Paul Sloane

    Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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