Listening is both art and skill. As our world grows busier, and faster, and louder, and fuller, the awareness of the importance of listening is easily lost. But invariably, I find that one of the most intrinsic needs of every human being, is the opportunity to be heard. And in order to be heard, someone must be willing to listen.
We have lots of reasons for not really listening. Time. Competing demands for our attention. Noise. Impatience. Not feeling heard ourselves-why should I listen to you, you’re not listening to me…
But listening to others is a gift we not only give to the one we’re listening to, it’s a gift we give to ourselves. Because the more I really listen to someone, the better I understand them. The better I understand their thoughts, their feelings, their history, their reasoning, their perspective. And when I take the time to listen, and to understand, the more connected I feel to them, and them to me. The more I care about them, the more they care about me. The more I am able to recognize our similarities and commonalities, the less our differences feel impossible to overcome.
But what does it mean to listen to someone? In order to truly listen, we are required to:
- Stop talking – harder than we like to admit!
- Empathize – this means putting myself in the other person’s shoes. Empathy allows us to demonstrate a deeper understanding of where they’re coming from and what is driving them to say what they’re saying.
- Focus on using “open” or “inviting” body language, such as making eye contact, uncrossing your arms, and turning your shoulders to face the person speaking.
- Avoid thinking about what you’re going to say next. By reflecting back what you’ve heard, it will help you stay focused on listening, and not on your response.
- Be open minded and curious about learning the speaker’s perspective. This helps you be less judgmental.
- Stop multi-tasking while listening. Stop and actually pay attention to what is being said.
- Reschedule the conversation when possible if you can’t remove the distractions in that moment.
- Take what is said at face value and avoid mind-reading, or looking for unspoken messages.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Ask for clarification to gain better understanding. Avoid asking “why”, but instead use expressions such as “can you tell me more about that?” or “what did that feel like?”.
When we consider it closely, being a good listener means treating the speaker the way we would like to be treated. What people need today, is a good listening to!