Have you ever been talking with someone and, before you can even finish your sentence, they interrupt to share their own thought or finish yours? Or perhaps you are in the middle of making an important point and their attention is pulled away as they check their ringing cell phone, send an email, or reply to a text message. We’ve all watched someone we are talking to nod and even mutter “uh huh” – knowing they didn’t really hear a word we just said.
People notice and can feel when others are not paying attention. These are conversations that leave people feeling unheard and unimportant, and they happen to all of us. In fact, most of us are guilty on a regular basis of listening to others in this same way. Listening with all of our attention is a discipline that needs to be practiced. It is also a skill that pays big dividends in both personal relationships and business endeavors. After all, every part of life is about relating.
In short, how does one develop or hone the skill of listening? Here are a few points to bare in mind in becoming a more skilled listener:
- Giving the other person your undivided attention. This may included putting your cell phone away, closing your laptop, stepping away from the crowd, turning off the television, music etc. and tuning in to the person with eye contact. Removing barriers to being present helps with focus.
- Stay focused. We are conditioned to drift. There are often many things competing for our attention. Focus is a skill to be built – It is not automatically “there.” When talking with another person be mindful of thoughts and other inner and outer distractions that can negatively impact connecting. When distracted gently pull your attention back to the person talking – Even if you need to do it over and over again.
- Being aware of the impact of judgment. Defending one’s self from what is not wanted to be heard or felt or blocks our ability to listen and attend to the relationship. This includes blaming the other person or situation when uncomfortable or distressed- projecting unwanted feeling onto others. Part of this is the experience of how we believe others see us. When self perception is distorted a person can become distracted and emotionally deregulated. Working with human judgment and learning to appraise ourselves and others accurately allows for more connection and compatibility.
- Maintain open body language. Body language is non verbal and actually that more significant part of communication than what is verbal. Non- verbal being roughly 55-65% of communication. Remember words and actions need to line up – This is often considered “Walking the talk.” Alignment of verbal and non-verbal communication fosters connection and trust with others. Make sure you are open and receptive – Eliminating crossed arms, furrowed brow, abrupt movement, eye rolling – darting or similar behaviors.
When we become skilled listeners, we provide people around us with a gift that they have rarely been given in their lifetime. For when we truly listen we take others in, learn about them, and acknowledge that they exist. When we listen we also learn more and allow ourselves to truly know others and to challenge our assumptions. Listening facilitates change.
Do you tend to hear people or really listen?
Quote: “Since in order to speak, one must first listen, learn to speak by listening.” ~Rumi