- Level of feeling and intensity;
- Tone and emphasis;
- Body language and eye contact;
- Choice of words; and
- Underlying meaning.
The last point is crucial. What the person says is far less important than what is meant and when you sense a gap between the two then you will have to probe for the true meaning. You can ask the person to give examples or to elaborate on what was said. On some occasions, you may not get further explanation but that lack of an explanation may speak volumes.Beware also of your own tones and body language to make sure that you signaling that you are interested and are listening carefully. Do otherwise and you'll indirectly reduce the clarity of the message as the other person will sense your disinterest and will act to shorten the conversation.
People like to be read, especially on the most sensitive of topics, and although it would be nice if they would spell things out often they'll be reluctant to do so because they are fearful or shy or the matter is not clear in their own minds.
When the speaker can not or will not be clear, it is the listener's responsibility to obtain clarification. Blaming the communicator is the habit of a poor listener. A good listener is not a passive recipient but instead takes an active role in obtaining information. In doing so, the listener becomes an ally of the communicator and both share in the benefits of a message well sent.