I listen to a lot of podcasts and a lot of political ones. I keep hearing that we need to converse and talk with “the other side.” Although I’d like to agree with the idea, I don’t think “talking” will get us anywhere. I believe we need to listen and then listen more and then listen again. Being heard is a fundamental need to be human.
Here’s the thing, listening is a skill, and because most of us are born being able to “hear,” we are never taught to listen. Because most of us have brains that process 5x’s faster than we listen, there is no possible way to listen 100% of the time. We are constantly managing thoughts. Always. There’s no exception to this. The practice, or skill development, is to know that. Once we know our thoughts are intruding in our listening, we can bring ourselves back to listening.
Of course, this assumes that we want to hear what the other person is saying. So, I’m going to start on the premise that we want to understand what the other person is saying.
Here are some simple things you can do to increase your skill level with listening.
- Manage distractions. Turn off your cell phone and other things that beep, ding, and talk. If you have to be attentive to a phone, SAY SO! This will help you minimize the distraction because then you are only going to be distracted by having to watch for a call coming in rather than distracted by both watching for a call and managing what the other person thinks of you having to be distracted by it.
- Diminish distractions.
It’s almost impossible to listen if we are uncomfortable…if we’re cold or too hot or have to pee or are hungry, it’s tough to listen. It’s okay to say, “Can you hang on to that thought while I….”. Even better, “I want to hear what you have to say. Let me grab my sweater because I’m distracted by being chilly.”
- Notice when you are formulating your response before the other person finishes speaking. Think of a question to deepen your understanding rather than formulating your response.
- Make a mental note of a question or similar story if you have something to share.
- Ask yourself if what you have to say is essential? Will it move the conversation forward?
Pay attention to how you listen.
I promise that when you work on listening, your relationships will improve.