“Look with your eyes, not with your hands” was my mum’s warning to her three children whenever we visited friends with enticing collections of small and very breakable ornaments.
And when it comes to listening, it can be so tempting to jump in with our own thoughts and experiences that perhaps we should remind ourselves to “Listen with your ears, not with your mouth.”
Whether we are joyfully sharing exciting news or opening up about a painful experience, there are few things better than feeling that we’ve been heard. On the flip side, there are few things more frustrating than feeling that we’re not being listened to. Yet it’s a common complaint.
Listening and hearing: a world of difference
Are we really so bad at listening? Don’t we do it all day? Look around you now. If you’re in a public space, you can probably see people listening to music, on the phone, listening to announcements or simply chatting with friends.
I’d suggest that we’re pretty good at hearing. But I wonder how good we are at taking in the information. Maybe we’re ‘listening on automatic’ – nodding away, muttering “mmm, yeah” occasionally but later on realising that we can’t actually remember much of that conversation.
And what about interruptions? I’m sure you can remember a time when you started to tell a story which was important to you, only to be interrupted after a couple of sentences and never really having the chance to express yourself as you’d hoped. Perhaps your listener’s phone beeped to announce a text and they just broke off conversation to reply, exhorting you to “carry on, I’m still listening”.
How to become a great listener
The secret is to be fully engaged committed to the process. If you want your friends and colleagues to feel listened to, here are my tips:
What’s your intention in this conversation? Author Stephen R Covey said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” If we’re busy planning our reply, we’re not really listening to what’s being said.
Eliminate distraction. A heartfelt conversation of a delicate nature is probably not best held by the water cooler. Feeling pressed for time doesn’t help you engage with the conversation, and neither does knowing you’re waiting for an important call. Do everything you can to make it clear to the other party that this conversation is your priority.
Listen not just to what is said but how it’s said. As well as listening to the spoken words, hear the feelings behind them. Notice what is left unsaid.
Reflect back. Summarise the conversation so far – “what I think you’re saying is …” or “can I just clarify …”. This gives you both the chance to make sure you’re on the right track.
Respond appropriately. Now it’s your turn. You’ve fully understood the speaker so you can respond thoughtfully and empathetically.
Being listened to is a great privilege: let’s offer each other that privilege whenever we can.
Find out more…
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey