So, the thought for today is…. Are you a good listener?
Because if you really think about it, there is a huge difference between being listened to, and actually being heard, it is a rare and wonderful experience to feel that another person has quietly (and with intention) truly listened to what you have said. So, can you become a great listener? Can you connect deeply to the speaker through respectfully being completely engaged in their experience? Do you even want to?
It seems to me that when we are really present with someone, when we have our full attention on them, we are creating a kind of energetic channel of emotion, of energy. When we are sharing words, there seems to be an energetic channel that those words travel through, an emotional channel, which connects – us to them.
We may not see it, we may not notice it, but if we have ever had an experience where someone was really engaged with us, there is an electricity in the air, in their presence, in that connection of conversation. In that presence of just listening – by putting our attention on someone, we are connecting in that listening. And sadly, a lot of time, people try and connect by getting themselves understood, by getting someone to listen to their story, their beliefs, their ideas – by getting someone to like them. Yet, there is a more powerful way to connect.
To really listen – that’s the way it works – and the reason that it works is – we are close and aligned in the way that our attention is on someone, but it’s not because of the story they are telling, hardly at all. What’s making the connection is the energetic impact of what happens when we place our attention on someone – or someone places their attention on us. This is what impacts us.
I often get to know people by just asking questions and really listening, I kind of interview them in a quiet conversational way and resist my inner urges to say ‘Me too‘ and ‘Oh, that was like when I…‘And often they say to me “You’re a great conversationalist, I really enjoyed our chat.” They don’t realise that I didn’t share anything about myself, I just really listen and (normally) I am really interested in them and what they have to say, you could say it is a connection of love or respect and the words are just the medium that manifests that connection.
Common conversational traps we fall into
Often, as we travel through a conversation our thoughts and emotions seem to take over the conversation and we miss the underlying power of the connection with another person, common distractions seem to be:
The ‘me too trap’ – you can see this all the time where one party says ‘I really love chocolate‘ and the second party replies with ‘Me too – I especially love mint chocolate, I remember I had some in Greece last summer on holiday….‘ It seems innocent enough, however, the first person may have only been halfway through their sentence and may have had more context to add, such as, ‘but it no longer agrees with me and upsets my stomach.’ In addition, the second party has now made the conversation about them, and added a context that further dilutes the first persons conversation by bringing in thoughts about holidays.
The ‘here’s what you should do trap’ – there are two places I like to sit and listen, one is coffee shops and the other is hairdressing salons (although being bald mainly excludes me from the latter.) These two places are the domain of chit-chat conversations and it is so very common to hear one person talking about their issues and another saying ‘What you should do is xyz…‘ Don’t get me wrong there is nothing bad about this, however, it has its drawbacks, for example; just saying ‘Here’s what you should do...’ sets the expectation that the speaker knows more than you, the speaker knows what is best for you, understands your feelings, understands your thought processes, family circumstances etc. and (usually) this is frankly not the case. I feel a good listener gently guides the speaker to explore their own feelings and helps them to reflect on various possibilities or just accepts the person has some difficulties and can gently empathise with their situation.
The ‘I don’t like silence’ trap – for some people pauses and silence within a conversation feels uncomfortable (and for some it doesn’t) for those who dislike silence they are often likely to fill the pauses with casual chit-chat or random observational comments like ‘It’s warm today‘ or ‘Did you see xyz on television last night?‘ It is useful to consider that some people are OK with silence and some individuals need some silence to process their thought or ponder their point of view. It is always quite a surprise (for talkative people) to learn that often quiet people have interesting stories to tell if they are given the space and supportive conversational environment to feel safe to talk. Another interesting observation is that quiet people often talk, then pause, then talk, then pause… Let them pause and you might be surprised what comes out of their mouths next.
The ‘literally translating their words trap’ – If one person said ‘He was really annoying‘ what do they actually mean by that? How annoying is really annoying? How does being annoyed impact their emotions or behaviours? Annoyed in which way? Was he annoying that day or always? Sometimes words just don’t convey the whole message and certainly not always the context of the story. In the majority of cases we substitute our version of what ‘annoying’ means to us and assume we feel the same as them – and this just doesn’t pass the common sense test! So, perhaps it might be good to ask ‘What specifically did he do that was annoying?’ Or ‘How did that annoyance in you manifest itself?’
Tips to become a good listener
Although this all seems logical, not everybody is going to get it, because if the person has an ego problem and needs people to like them or if the person has a need to fix you or control you – then they are not going to listen, they are going to tell you stuff, in this instance we can step back and listen to them – you could say we can have a respectful connection with them (even if we don’t agree with them.)
And if this does make sense to you, then here are a few tips to help you become a great listener:
- Do you need to share your views on the subject or can you just listen to theirs?
- Are you aware of their style of language? If they talk slowly do you talk slowly too?
- Is your body language showing that you are listening? Nodding, eye contact, open body language etc.
- To listen, is to care what the other persons says – Do you care? Are you interested? Become interested
- Observe your own inner dialogue – does it want to say ‘I did that too‘ then refrain, let them tell their story
- Ask questions so that you can better understand how they feel rather than making assumptions
- Who? What? Why? When? & How? Are great questions to ask that expand your true understanding
- Smile whilst they talk to you and gently twist your ear towards them from time to time
- Realise that communication is really about connection – be connected
Listening is quite a skill and like all skills it needs to be practised and perfected, so my thought for today is are you a good listener?