The Art of Listening - Really Listening Part 3 of A Survival Guide for the Festive Season (3 min read)
Counselling Services WA 19.12.2018
I wonder, how much time and effort you put into really listening to the people who are important to you? Relationships suffer, when people don’t feel listened to. The sad reality is that we are not spending enough time listening to each other and so the art of listening is getting lost.
Part of this is due to technology. That mobile phone, tablet or computer that you either have in your hand, or close enough that you can get to it quickly. You spend hours each day engaging with ideas and others through screens! How much time do you spend sitting down, holding sustained, coherent and meaningful conversations with the most important people in your life?
There is no better feeling than having a good conversation with a person you care about. A conversation where you feel engaged and inspired, where you feel like you've really connected, or you've been perfectly heard and understood. I’m also sure you have all had the opposite experiences, where you feel distant, uninspired, disconnected, not listened to and totally misunderstood. Listening is one of the main tipping points of a really good conversation. The person speaking will always sense if they are not being genuinely listened to.
Why do people struggle to listen to each other? It’s because people would rather talk. When you are talking, you are in control. You don't have to hear anything you don’t want to, or anything you are not interested in. You are the centre of attention. You can bolster your own identity. Research indicates that most people don't listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.
Another reason for poor listening is that you get distracted. The average person talks at about 225 word per minute and you can listen at up to 500 words per minute, so your mind fills in those other 275 words. It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone. If you can't pay attention, you're not in a conversation. You are just two people speaking out barely related sentences in the same place.
So, what does it mean to listen so that you can achieve that feel good factor you get from being part of a really great conversation?
To listen means to:
Receive - Be present - No Multitasking
This means paying attention to the other person. That doesn’t just mean to set down your mobile, or your tablet, or your car keys, or whatever is in your hand. What it does mean is being present, being in that moment. If you are thinking about something else like dinner, or how you are going to respond, then you have stopped listening and you are no longer present in the conversation. If you want to get out of the conversation, get out of the conversation, don't be half in it and half out of it.
Appreciate and Be Curious – Assume you will learn something
Let the other person know you are listening by making little noises like "hmm," "oh," "OK" – noises that show you are interested in what they are saying.
Enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn. True listening requires a setting aside of oneself. Sometimes that means setting aside your opinion. As people sense acceptance, they become less and less vulnerable and more and more likely to open up to you. Be open and curious.
Buddha said " … if your mouth is open (talking), you're not learning … ".
Summarise and Ask Questions to Clarify (After they have finished talking)
Summarise what you think you have heard. Be prepared to be corrected. The person talking may want to adjust what they have said, once you have summarised it for them. That is good, it means they are really listening to what you are saying too! Ask questions to clarify. Don’t assume you know or understand. Use opened ended questions. Don’t fill in the gaps. Let the person you are listening to describe for themselves. They're the ones that know. Try asking them things like, "What was that like?" "How did that feel?" Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it and you're going to get a much more interesting response.
Remember that each experience is unique
Don't equate your experience with another person’s experience. It's not the same. Our experiences will never be the same, even if it was the same incident. All experiences are individual. More importantly, if you are listening, being with the other person, then it is not about you. If you are listening, then it is about the other person.
Say “I don’t Know” when you don’t know
If you don't know, say that you don't know. Be honest and real. Err on the side of caution. Talk should not be cheap.
By following these guidelines to the art of listening, you can change the way you contribute to conversations with people you care about. Listening is key to good relationships, it creates safety and connection. Listening shows that you are there for the people you care about.
Give the people you care about the gift of really listening this Christmas.
Scheduled posts for - A Survival Guide for the Festive Season
Part 4 - Communication
Part 5 - Catching your Breath (Balancing Self)