How many times have you tuned out of a story and snapped back just in time to give an ambiguous response without having heard a word of what was said? What about a miscommunication that could have been avoided had the other person listened to your instructions?
To be a better friend, parent, partner, family member, colleague, boss, citizen, student, educator, service provider, neighbor, HUMAN is to be a better listener. A listener naturally strengthens their compassion, empathy, focus/attention, intelligence, open-mindedness, and respect to name a few. I’m convinced that listening is the key component to world peace. Are you in?
Some of us love to chime in when we are unable to contain our excitement about a topic. Or sometimes we feel a need to compete with whomever is speaking. I know some people who make connections to their own experiences and relate to others out loud as a way of processing (half) of what the other person is saying. Our judgements often cloud our ability to fully listen, and we may stop listening once we’ve heard something that doesn’t align with our opinions. I know people who are simply waiting to talk. This is a bit deceiving in that they may look like they’re listening, but they’re not really acknowledging the person speaking nor much of the content. I’ve talked with people who finish other’s sentences because they feel they know what the person is going to say, but that person isn’t saying it fast enough. Excitement and talking all at once or quickening the pace might make a “lively conversation,” except there is so much missing.
I’ve experienced the same sort of absent-minded, care-free, qualities in emails as well.
“Are you available to meet on Wednesday at 2:30pm or Friday at 3pm?” The reply, “yes.”
It’s frustrating when you have been as clear as you possibly could be and the other person was obviously too distracted to give the time for a proper response. It only wastes more time! It doesn’t feel good to be misunderstood and unacknowledged.
I watched a TEDTalk a few months ago, and the man suggested a way to improve listening skills is to become attuned to sounds around you. I find it easier to do this experiment when I’m outside. All you have to do is quietly identify every sound you notice; maybe count them. When you train yourself to focus on subtleties, see if there is a difference in your ability to focus on and retain information and patiently respond to people when they speak.
Of course, on the pathway towards becoming a better listener is awareness. Be aware of the habits of people you feel really listen to you and the habits of people who likely don’t. Which habits make you feel more heard? Notice your own habits in listening situations and what works for you. Acknowledge that listening is something from which we can all improve and benefit.
An important aspect of practicing to be a better listener is using your whole body. Are you facing the person speaking with your body in alignment? Where is your phone? Are you making enough eye contact? Blank, unblinking stares don’t count! Are you leaning in? Decipher if your “mmhmm’s” are reassuring or overpowering. These have all become critically important as we grew accustomed to etiquette during video conferences. Eye contact can be tricky if the camera isn’t near the screen. I find it challenging to look into the camera rather than look at myself or the people on the screen because seeing people feels more personal while I’m speaking or listening. I have noticed a difference in the quality of the conversation when people make an effort to face the camera and screen at an attentive, upright angle.
Finally, be sure you are able to be fully present. Be honest when you are unable to give your full attention. If I don’t have the time or energy to listen the way someone deserves, I will tell them that with an offer to plan for an another time. When you truly care about someone, you want to be there for them. Sometimes support doesn’t need to involve advice, but an effort to understand and affirm that what is said is heard. You don’t have to accept everything you hear, but allow yourself to decide after you’ve heard it. Listening could be the greatest way you show someone you have love, care, and respect for them. It is also a crucial way to constantly learn and grow. When you give your attention, you receive the opportunity for healthy relationships and richer connections. Listening lessens loneliness. We miss so much when we don’t listen. In a world that strives to have more, strive to have more respect and to have more understanding.
Go in peace, learn, listen, and if you like this page, share it!