One of the things I think about, ironically, when discussing things with people is anything else other than what the person is saying.
My mind wanders and I struggle to keep on track and it is almost as if I have mini-blackouts, as it were, because whilst the other person is talking, I am often:
- Just hearing the words being spoken, and not really absorbing them
- Watching the body language and facial expressions of the person (can be good)
- Probably watching what is happening on the periphery or behind the person speaking
- Listening to someone else in the room clicking a pen (those types of pens should be banned in any civilised country)
- Thinking about what someone said to me yesterday, but I can’t quite remember all of it, what was it they said again?
- I could be thinking about the topic being spoken about, is this relevant to me?
- I know better, stop talking and let me educate you 😉
- I am trying to get a word in edgeways, trying to keep that thought in my head, so I can reply when I get the chance
- Thinking of something smart or funny to say
- Wanting to be liked
- Nodding as if I understand, but don’t really
- Trying to think of an answer or a piece of advice or a better story
- Thinking about why they are telling me this?
- I know this already, they are preaching to the converted and wish they would stop.
- Thinking I must call so and so before the end of the day
What I am NOT doing is listening.
Irony at its best
What I should do, and what more of us all need to do more of, is actively listen.
How does one do this? you might well ask (yes, I am listening to you now).
In a Listening workshop the classic way of practising active or conscious listening is to break off into groups of three. One person is the speaker, one plays the listener and the other one the observer.
The Speaker then speaks about a minor issue or a topic they are passionate about or a holiday experience or an event that happened recently, try to think of how they felt and what their emotions were or are about that topic. (take about 5 minutes)
The Listener really concentrates only on what the person is saying: truly listening
The Observer is there to keep track of the listener, to make sure they are really listening and also to make sure they don’t interrupt or ask too many questions or, horror of all horrors, giving advice 😉
After the 5 minutes is up, the Speaker can then speak about what their experience was, if they felt listened to and what their experience was generally like.
The Listener can then talk about his or her experience, what they found difficult, what they understood, how it was for them
The Observer can then finally share their observations of both speaker and listener and give feedback on how they could improve (for both speaker and listener).
The roles can then be swapped and so everyone gets a turn to speak listen and observe.
The exercise can be quite revealing and once you have done it, you will realise how bad the average person is at listening. (many of us, if not most of us).
So what can you actually do to be a better listener?
Well, there are basic rules, such as:
- Maintain eye contact (don’t look over the person’s shoulder for example or round the room)
- Stop your thoughts from wandering, try to listen optimistically (maybe there is gold in that there speech)
- Focus your attention on what is being said
- Keep your emotions under control, even if you don’t agree with them
- Accept what is being said as their truth, don’t try to convince them of otherwise
- Listen all the way to the end (without interrupting if at all possible)
- Surrender the need to be right
- Work at the listening, be alert and alive (stifle that yawn)
- When the person has finished, you can summarise what they have said, using your own words so that they know you listened, and if you get it wrong they now have a chance to clarify or correct anything.
- Look for the feeling or intent behind the words (or between the lines)
- Try to visualise that is being said
- Ask yourself if you are judging or listening
- Breathe slowly and deeply
What are the advantages of being a better listener?
They are multifold (is that even a word?)
- Listening properly can diffuse a situation or calm a situation if the person speaking is angry or upset or needs to talk and be heard.
- The listener is more relaxed and less stressed
- People need to be acknowledged and listened to to know that they exist and count in this world
- It can help people clarify their own thoughts and arguments, sometimes in explaining something one can get a light-bulb moment or moment of clarity if not interrupted
- It can help identify areas of conflict and help the listener understand the others point of view and where they are coming from instead of dismissing others points of view.
- Both people get more out of the conversation than just talking at each other.
- The listener can come across as charming and thoughtful and caring (bonus points)
Just remember, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason (Listening is twice as hard as talking)
With love (and two ears)