Everyone thinks they’re great listeners.
What’s easier than sitting down and just hearing what a person has to say, right?
Hearing isn’t necessarily listening, nor is it necessarily listening well.
As G.K. Chesterton said, “there’s a lot of difference between hearing and listening.”
The truth is, many people come to conversations with agendas, whether that is to make themselves be heard, or to make themselves not be heard, and to actually escape the conversation altogether. If you’re an introvert, you probably opt for the latter.
If you’re anything like me you probably find yourself on the receiving end of countless uninitiated conversations. Although you sit quietly listening to them, the fact is that you’d much prefer to be doing something else.
The problem with constantly feeling this way is that we never actually hear the people who speak to us. We don’t put our entire attention, interest or heart into listening and truly understanding them. And not only does this create alienation within us, but that alienation is felt by the other person as well.
The Art Of Listening
Just because you’re quiet and you let others do 75% of the talking, doesn’t mean you’re a good listener. And just because you’re good at talking and receiving what the other says, doesn’t mean you’re a great listener either.
How many times have you longed to be heard and understood only to have the receiving end ordering a pizza in the background, shuffling through papers or texting while you talk?
Being unheard results in feelings of disconnection and loneliness.
The need to be understood and listened to is a basic human need, along with food, water, and shelter. Yet, the sad reality is that most of us lack this basic life skill.
Listening is an art. It requires us to be patient, receptive, open-minded, and non-judgmental. It requires us to not put words in other people’s mouths, fill in gaps, or presume to understand the other person fully.
There is a certain Zen-like quality in practicing listening. Not only does it help us socially, but it also helps us spiritually as well.
Those who can listen to others well can listen to themselves deeply.
In fact, the art of listening is central to practices such as meditation and mindfulness. So why not hone this skill with others each day, and make the best opportunity of every moment you get?
How to Master the Art of Listening
Here’s how to bring this crucial life skill into your everyday existence:
1. Make Eye Contact
This first rule is very obvious but frequently forgotten. If you don’t look at the person while they’re speaking, you give them the impression that you don’t care what they say. In essence, it appears as though you don’t even care about them.
2. Don’t Interrupt
Let the person speak uninterrupted. To master the art of listening you need to halt any good thoughts that come to mind and let the person say everything they need to say. Often times people simply need someone to talk to, not someone who will butt in and give their own thoughts and opinions. The goal is to shine the spotlight on them, not you.
3. Practice “Active Listening”
The art of listening isn’t simply about staying quiet 100% of the time, it’s also about asking questions. These questions are for clarification, or for further explanation so that you can fully understand what the speaker is telling you. For instance, questions like these are brilliant: “Are you saying that _______”, “What I heard you say was ______”, “Did you mean that _______.”
4. Show You Understand
Another great way to show that you understand what the person is telling you is to nod. You can also make noises that show you’re in tune with what the person is saying such as “yes”, “yeah”, “mhmm”, “okay.” This seems trivial, but it’s important to not behave like a zombie and demonstrate some interest and comprehension.
5. Listen Without Thinking
In other words, listen without forming responses in your mind. Be wholehearted and listen to the entire message. It’s very tempting to fill the spaces, after all, our minds think around 800 words per minute, compared to 125-150 words we speak per minute. Don’t miss valuable information by letting your mind wander!
6. Listen Without Judgement
To effectively master the art of listening it’s extremely important to withhold any negative evaluations or judgments. Make it your goal to be open-minded as much as possible. After all, who wants to open up to a narrow-minded person? It also helps to be mindful of your “shut off” triggers, which are the specific words, looks, or situations that cause you to stop listening. This way, you can prevent yourself from shutting off in the future.
7. Listen To Non-Verbal Communication
About 60-75% of our communication is non-verbal. That’s a lot! In order to know whether to encourage the speaker, to open yourself more, or to be more supportive in your approach, it’s essential to know what the person’s body is saying. Do they display signs of discomfort? Are they wary of you? Does their body language align with their words?
8. Create A Suitable Environment
It can be difficult to listen to another person when the TV is screaming, your phone is buzzing and there are thousands of cars passing by. When you remove all of these distractions and find a quiet place to sit down and listen, it’s much easier to listen empathetically with an open mind and whole heart. Also, when you indicate it would be good to “find a quiet place,” you put importance in the person and what they have to say. Once again, you show care and consideration.
9. Observe Other People
If you’re really serious about mastering the art of listening, why not observe other people? One of the best ways to become a better listener is to observe the way people interact with each other, and all the irritating and rude things they do. Create an “annoying habit” checklist, and see if you do any. If you’re brave enough, you can even ask someone you trust about what they like and dislike about the way you interact with others in conversation.
Mastering the Art of Listening Requires Self-Respect
Do you need to listen to everyone deeply all the time? No. That’s not realistic and it can be quite exhausting. It’s perfectly okay to pick and choose who you decide to listen to. Again this requires listening deeply to yourself and your own needs. Are you tired? Is the other person overstepping your boundaries? Do you have something else to do? Feel free to draw a line.
Listening requires self-respect, both toward yourself and other people. You don’t need to be a doormat, a martyr, or a therapist to everyone. But do understand the difference that the power of listening has: it makes you feel more connected to others and life.
So approach this skill with healthy self-respect: you deserve to feel close to others, but also to honor your own needs.
Listening is a skill that is transferable to all aspects of life.
As Diogenes Laertius said: “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.” The art of listening is an invaluable life skill. Not only will it help you communicate better with your friends and family, but it will help you succeed in every other area of your life.