It’s no secret that we live in a world where everyone wants to be heard, yet few want to listen.
Greater understanding, compassion and connection can all stem from truly listening to one another, and that’s not just listening with the ears, but with eyes and heart as well.
The truth is that most people, especially in the current distraction-filled world, don’t know how to really listen. Sure, we’ve all been “listening” all our lives, but as this is something we often don’t give thought or attention too, we can become quite rusty and not even realise that we are doing it all wrong! Truly listening is a skill that needs to be learned and honed.
Here are 4 tips for improving the way you listen:
1. Show That You Are Paying Attention
Your body language matters.
Be present for the person who is speaking by having an engaged (maybe slightly forward leaning) posture, making eye contact, and unfolding your arms. These will all show that you are interested.
And I shouldn’t have to say it, but put your phone away! Checking and responding to messages during face to face interactions is plainly rude.
Be encouraging by smiling or nodding occasionally and using small verbal cues such as “yes” and “uh huh.”
2. Don’t interrupt!
Instead of planning your response while the other person is talking, try to truly listen and understand their point of view, let them finish speaking (ie. don’t interrupt) and never make assumptions. This leads to the next point…
3. Active Listening
Active listening is a skill that once practised can increase understanding and improve overall communication. This can be done by paraphrasing what was just said into your own words to make sure that you got the message right and that the person speaking feels heard and understood, (but for God’s sake — let them finish!).
Phrases such as, “Do you mean…”, “Its sounds like…”, or “So what you are saying is…?”, can be really helpful for both your own processing and also to help the speaker be sure they are expressing themselves properly. Additionally, by repeating the conversation, whether in your own words or theirs, the speaker has a chance to hear themselves and this can also help them to shed greater light on their own experience.
In most situations, unless someone opens with, “I need some advice…” — and even then — people generally want to be heard more than they want to be told what they should do. Many already have an idea of how to “solve” their problems but simply need to talk it out (we’ve all had that friend who comes to you for advice, then completely ignores it and does what they want anyway).
So regardless of the context, if someone is sharing their frustrations with you, a little empathy can go a long way. A verbal acknowledgement of their suffering will allow them to feel understood and not minimise their experience. I’m not saying join their pity party, but a simple, “I hear you, that really sucks…”, before responding with suggestions or advice, will allow them to move through their struggle without feeling judged or invalidated.
Listening is a vital part of communication that is too often overlooked as we all talk and yell and shout louder and louder in an effort to be heard without ever stopping to acknowledge the other. Listening is about love and respect of each other as humans, each of us have a unique and valid experience.