To-feel-listened-to is one of the most important needs we have. From drums and smoke signals down through the centuries to the pings and bings of technology our need to be heard remains strong. And yet, our ability to meet that crucial need – our ability to listen, is withering in the shadow of technology and the happy-face-emoji!
To listen according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary is to “hear something with thoughtful attention.” And in a society bursting with busy-ness, inattention and distraction, the ability to listen is a rare skill that is getting rarer and rarer.
Listening is more than silence while another speaks. Listening is more than occasional head nods or appropriately timed ‘ah… hmm’ interjections. Listening is not peppering the talker with questions. Listening is more than gathering facts. And unfortunately, like it or not, we all listen with a filter. Bombarded with information, our brain has developed our own unique filter based on our previous experiences. It’s why we only seem to hear jingle bells ‘all day long’ during the holidays.
Most of us believe we are good listeners. But, truth be told, most of us are distracted by our own thoughts and concerns and are tragically poor listeners. I know I am guilty. Once I get the gist of the conversation, my mind drifts to my own experiences with the topic at hand, wondering how I might respond to add to the conversation… missing the conversation.
But the good news is, listening is a skill we can all learn. And learning to listen is a skill that offers a huge return on investment.
How can we learn to listen better?
- “Seek first to understand” to quote Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Effective Living. Consciously direct your undivided attention to what the speaker is saying and focus as if you had to teach it to the next person you meet.
- Focus your attention on what is being said, not how you might respond. It is natural for our mind to drift to our own experiences. When you catch your mind adrift, redirect yourself back to the speaker. And if it seems you missed something…
- Ask clarification questions. Closely related to seek first to understand, be curious and…
- Listen without judgement. Let the speaker have an opinion, even if it differs wildly from your own. You just might learn something!
- Listen with patience. Don’t jump to conclusions.
- Listen without the need to fix anything. Just acknowledge and affirm the speaker’s experience.
Think of listening as intentional attention. Our undivided attention is one of the most precious gifts we can give. Imagine how your relationship with your teen, your spouse or your boss might change if you offered them your undivided attention one a day.
Have a wonderful week.