How to listen? We do that all day!
But if we consider how we listen; do we really focus, with all our attention, on what people are saying to us? Or are we quite often more focused on preparing our replies, considering ourselves in a similar situation, or looking at our phones!?
Listening is such an important skill, and I would venture to add a rare occurrence. In families, relationships, or at work, real listening is more fulfilling and enjoyable for the person talking. Focused listening can help avoid conflict and improve understanding.
I have been learning about active listening and it is eye-opening.
How To Listen – The Backstory
But first – the backstory:
I believe what most of us crave – whether intro or extrovert, no matter which number we are on the Enneagram – is a connection with others.
Many of us have witnessed or experienced an increase in emotional suffering related to the pandemic. Numerous pandemic-related mental health studies show an increase in numbers experiencing anxiety.
When we lost one business, I hopped online into the digital world, like many others, in an attempt to create a new form of income.
I really enjoy the opportunities of the online world. Having, however, spent a lot of time there, I began to feel what the digital world (with all its groups, communities and live calls) lacks is real live human connection.
Without taking anything away from the online space;
- Wise well-written content can be awesome, but a hug is a tangible expression of care.
- Writing can be soothing and magical, but weeping while you tell a moving tale to a listening human, is even more so.
- Webinars and Facebook groups hold the space for digital connection, but experiencing a moment of self-awareness as unchecked words flow forth to a live, listening person, feels more substantial.
So I decided to offer a space for people to talk; a space for people to tell stories and find their voices, a space for people to feel heard. I think many of us need this simple space. Certainly, I do.
So I realised that I would need to learn how to listen because I am an interrupter, so I began to learn about listening.
Active listening involves being present. It requires total focus on the person speaking. No answers, no guesswork, only simple attention for the person who is telling her story.
Why We Need to Listen
I feel that we don’t always make time to listen.
We have a fundamental need to talk and be heard. It goes back to our need for connection. Judging by articles mentioning the therapist waitlists since the pandemic, it seems that the need is not being met.
Turns out real listening seems to be a rare experience for many of us.
So perhaps we need to learn to listen to each other.
- When was the last time someone put his phone down, looked you in the eyes while you spoke, and concentrated on understanding you, without interrupting, challenging, one-upping, or correcting?
- When was the last time you were offered the luxury and space of just speaking, hearing your words tumble out, not being hurried or cut short?
Perhaps you have a therapist or a coach or some good friends with whom you can talk freely. I have a coach and this is something for which I am very grateful because I get a weekly chance to speak and be heard.
Sometimes the person with whom you used to share ALL the details currently has her own issues to deal with, so you no longer have that outlet.
Perhaps you feel as if you have not been heard for a while.
How Being Listened To, Helps
We need to talk, and we need to be heard, but we also need to listen to others, so that we:
- can feel better and often solve some of our problems simply by airing them.
- are able to experience self-awareness through hearing our own words pour out freely, unfiltered, unchecked.
- may abandon our world-facing persona for an hour in order to help us get in touch with ourselves.
- get to know ourselves again, and
- remember our unique value of just being ourselves.
Giving the gift of listening to someone who needs to talk, is an act of good. It is an act of kindness, generosity, expansiveness and humanity. These are all things we need to encourage.
How To Listen
Whatever your own needs, you can choose to be a good listener yourself. Real listening is a skill, and a skill can be learned. Here are some ways to improve your listening skills. Perhaps in exchange, you will inspire others to listen well to you.
Face the person speaking, lean slightly forward with arms and legs uncrossed and have eye contact from time to time – not so much forced eye contact that you both feel awkward. Enough to show her that you are present, alert and engaged.
Her Body Language
Watch the person speaking so you notice any non-verbal cues, body language, shifting eyes, tone of voice. These observations can reveal as much information to you as her spoken words.
It’s Not About You
Don’t interrupt, try not to jump to conclusions, judge or plan your reply while she is speaking. When you listen, listen with your body and your energy and all your attention focused on her.
Stay focused by repeating her words silently if it helps. You can also nod or say “yes” or “right” or something similarly simple to show that you are listening helping to keep you actively engaged.
Ask or Reflect
Demonstrate that you have been paying attention by asking for clarity. Ask questions to clarify her meaning, or reflect back to her what she has been saying as this helps her feel that you have been listening, and helps to keep you focused.
Your New Listening Skill
So there you have it. Now you know how to listen to someone with all of you. You have a vital skill that you can put into practice today.
We need to be heard and we need to consider others and their need to be heard. So creating the space to listen actively to a friend, family member or co-worker, is of great value. The simple skill of listening well can help make others feel better, improve understanding and reduce conflict. Seems to be a worthwhile exercise to try.
Give it a go.
As always – thanks for reading