Listening seems quite basic, which is why most people believe they are excellent at it. The skill is actually more complex and more important than most people realize. We can make eye contact, hear words with our ears, come to a conclusion about what is being said and still completely miss the true message!
Learning to listen consciously can inject even the most strained relationship with new life. Whether it’s your co-worker, client, spouse, child or friend, deep listening tells people they are worthy of your attention. Both personally and professionally, listening also provides a great deal of valuable information.
A five-point tune-up for your listening skills and your life!
1. When someone is speaking, notice if you are simultaneously formulating a response in your mind.
This is a very common place for communication to break down. We can make this mistake with very good intentions, such as the desire to speak well or to reply in the most thoughtful way. But what good is our reply if we are only half listening? Trust in your ability to naturally respond when the time comes.
2. Do you ever think that what you have to say is more important than what someone else is saying?
Be especially careful of this if there is a power imbalance in the relationship. Even if you are being hired to teach or coach someone, learning about your client’s unique world will help you deliver your message more effectively. If you think your words are more important than what your partner or friend has to say, you might be devaluing this person. Finally, parents who are struggling with teenagers, listening will get you everywhere!
3. Watch for piggy-backing.
When you hear something like this “I saw the best movie last night,” resist the temptation to share your knowledge of that movie, or talk about what YOU did last night.
Instead, let the energy linger with what was just shared. For the moment, let go of what you know about the movie—it doesn’t matter if you actually produced that movie! Keep the focus on the speaker by asking a question: “What was it about the movie that impacted you?” Or reflect something back such as, “It sounds like the imagery in the movie reminded you of your childhood.”
4. When communication is strained or difficult, do your best to slow it down.
One of the most effective listening tools is the phrase What I heard you say is… Instead of responding right away in self-defense, reflect back what you heard. When we are angry, stressed or hurt, our receptivity is blocked because we are protective of ourselves. In this state, we can easily misinterpret the words of others, causing everything to escalate. Slowing down the conversation to really hear the other can dramatically improve the outcome.
5. Think of listening as an opportunity to bear witness to another person’s world.
If you're guilty of some of these communication breakers, know that you are not alone! Listening has become a lost art in this fast-forward world. As you practice patience and presence for others, remember to also give this sacred gift back to yourself.