When was the last time you listened? I mean, really listened - without an agenda to persuade, a need to give advice, thinking of a clever reply; or without tuning out the conversation, multitasking, or interrupting.
I have to say that I am guilty of many of these things. I know from experience that being aware of them is not enough to change habits like these. It is important to put a priority on purposefully and consciously listening to each and every dialogue you have.
So what is listening?
Listening is more than just letting the other person talk. It requires shutting down your mind chatter, and setting aside your ego and emotions. It requires engaging in a conversation for the sole purpose of seeing someone else’s truth, truly listening to what another is experiencing and understanding where they are coming from.
Listening has become a rare skill. Public speaking is taught in schools and in adult seminars, but there are few courses on listening. In addition, we have become conditioned to receive brief snippets of information (cell phone alerts, social media notifications, texting), so that anything more than a couple sentences is seldom paid attention to.
We have become increasingly self-absorbed. What another is saying feels boring or not important - so we tune out or become impatient. Why? Because what is happening to me is more important.... Wow! How did we get to this place of living without compassion? And why do we stay here?
When we don’t listen, we don’t remember what we hear. We also don’t learn. Important people in our lives, like our friends, partners, and co-workers, don’t feel appreciated or understood. When we don’t listen, we miss opportunities to build trust and empathy.
Sometimes, a different perspective helps. Let’s step back a minute and rise above the current state of communications. All of us are confused and unloved souls trying to do the best we can with a set of foundational experiences that have formed us. A little compassion is needed here - towards others and towards yourself. It is not a competition that you are right and they are wrong. Each of us is on a journey trying to make sense of who we are. If someone disagrees with you, it’s not because they’re wrong and you’re right. It’s because they believe something that you don’t believe. They have a different perspective based on their experiences which is different from yours.
Being a good listener does not mean you never speak. It does mean eating dinner with a friend without saying a word. Conversation is a two-way street, so active listening is a good place to start. As you listen, let the other person know you are listening by giving them eye contact, nodding your head occasionally, intermittently acknowledging and paraphrasing to make sure you understand, and sincerely asking clarifying or follow-up questions.
Now with that said, you probably will become distracted sometimes. If that occurs, refocus and listen more closely. Ask questions that go beyond typical small talk. Some ideas: What’s the most important thing you’ve experienced since we spoke last? How does that make you feel? How does that work? Do you have any advice for me on x?
Try listening for just one day to someone you are close to: it could be your husband, wife, child, or parent. Try really listening to a difficult colleague, client, or friend.
You don’t need to be perfect at this for the results to be remarkable. All of us want to be listened to and all of us want to really be heard. When someone senses you are really listening to what they have to say, they will feel valued. In turn, they will share more fully and wonderful things can happen. New solutions can be found as new understandings can be reached. Anger or irritation can slip away, as better communication blooms. Isn’t this where we want to move to, understanding relationships, new solutions, and patience?
When you focus on listening you’ll learn something new. You will enhance your relationships. And, you will give the gift of acknowledgment, just by listening to those around you. Think about it – when have you felt most valued? Was it when someone really listened to you, without judgement or a set time planned out? Why not make Valentine’s Day, or even Valentine’s month, your time to REALLY focus on active listening! Your friends and family will appreciate the gift, and so will our world.
Love - Alice