Story at a Glance.
We’ve all been there, either in a conversation that’s boring the pants off you, or a conversation that’s so exciting you can’t wait for the other person to pipe down so you can add in your two cents worth. But what we’re missing in both cases, is the art of listening. Oh sure, you think you’re listening, but only long enough to wait for the pause in conversation so you can jump in. But what you’re really doing is hearing. Not listening. Active listening is a skill. And it can take a while to master.
Why bother properly listening?
Well to start with, our heads are often full of thoughts, no more so than when you’re in a conversation or an argument where you’re just busting to say what you need to say next. Who cares what the other person is saying? You’ve just thought of five more points you want to address, now! And the other person is just in the way of you saying your piece!
But active listening, really listening to what the other person is saying, has many benefits. Not least of all, deepening your connection with others. We all want harmonious, fulfilling relationships, whether that be with our partner, our friends, our co-workers or our children. And active listening is one of those attributes that will deepen our connection with them, building empathy and understanding.
While we are busy rounding up our next stream of thoughts, we’re missing out on what the other person is really saying. If you stop, and listen and don’t interrupt, you’ll actually start to get a much better understanding of where that person is coming from, and what is really going on in their life. If you’re trying to help a friend or partner in need, the best thing you can do is listen. We’re so quick off the mark to offer all our worldly advice. But are we really listening properly to how they feel? What they’re going through?
Whether you’re the CEO of a large company or a person trying to help out a friend during a difficult time, active listening is a skill that will deepen your ability to connect and to be a much more effective and empathetic boss, lover or friend.
Active listening requires you to stop.
It requires you to pay attention.
And particular in cases of an argument it requires you to cease interrupting in order to win the next point. It requires you to care less about your own view and more about the other persons.
When someone feels listened to they feel acknowledged. They feel validated and worthy. And while you give them the space to speak, they have more and more space to develop their thoughts and share them with you. Thoughts they may not have even uncovered themselves until you gave them the space to do so. Thoughts you might never have known about them until you gave them airtime to share with you. And that can take more than one minute of them talking before you butt in with your advice, or your dismissal or your love.
Giving someone the opportunity to speak uninterrupted while you actively listen to them is a gift from you to them. But it takes practice.
And a few tips wouldn’t go astray either.
#1 While you’re listening, stay focused.
Don’t daydream. Don’t construct your reply. Just listen.
#2 Try and understand message they are sending you.
While your listening try and understand what the other person is saying. How are they’re feeling? What’s going on for them? Think about those elements while you listen, rather than thinking about what you’re going to say back to them.
#3 Show you’re listening.
If you’re just sitting or standing there not doing anything, you may come across as bored or disconnected. So you want to develop an active listening body language that conveys you’re on board and involved. There’s a few basic things you can do.
You can smile.
Or nod your head.
Even a simple “uh huh” can convey that you’re actively engaged.
#4 Look them in the eyes.
If the eyes are the window to the soul then it makes sense to take the time to look at your listener. Watch their facial expressions; look at the sadness in their eyes, or the humour. Be aware of what they are showing you with their body, their gestures, their facial movements.
#5 Defer Judgement
Oh this can be a tricky one for us humans. We’re predisposed to box things, categorise and ultimately, judge. But resist the urge. Being an active listener means you put on hold your own personal view while you hold the space for them to express theirs.
#6 Don’t interrupt.
Oh so tempting. But resist and desist. Those minutes you might have hogged the limelight might be just the moment they disclose something very important. Just let them talk and sit tight. Your turn is coming up!
This is the bit you’ve been waiting for! Your turn! But what a different response you’ll have after actively listening! Now you have so much more information than you would have had otherwise. Your empathy levels have increased because you’ve actually partaken in an exchange where you now understand the other so much more intimately. Which means, if you’re an employer, you’ll know more about your employee’s issues. If you’re a parent, you’ll start to really see what your child needs. And if you’re a lover, you might just have understood for the first time why your beloved was so very angry the night before.
Listening is one of the most important skills you can learn. It’s why hostage negotiators do it first. They don’t go barging in making demands and telling everyone what to do. Instead they listen. They actively listen. For as long as it takes for the other to be heard and to say all they need to say. And after they’ve listened, they empathise. Listening brings about understanding, empathy, learning, gaining of information and ultimately, the thing we all long for, a deeper connection with our fellow human beings.