I listen to a lot of podcasts and a lot of political ones. I keep hearing that we need to be able to converse and talk with “the other side”. Although I agree with this fundamentally I don’t really think “talking” is going to get us anywhere. I think we have to listen and then listen more and then listen again. Being heard is fundamental need to be human.
Here’s the thing… listening is actually 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 for us to be listening 100% of the time. We are always managing thoughts. Always. There’s no exception to this. The practice, or skill development, is to know that. Once we are aware of our thoughts 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 that premise, that we actually 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.
Set yourself up to listen. 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 really hard to listen. It’s really okay to say, “Can you hang on to that thought while I….”. Even better, “I really 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 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 it will improve your relationships.