Learning to listen

Dalai Lama XIV

Listening is an incredibly important skill. Yet we often take the skill of listening for granted; Everyone can listen, right? Wrong. The world is overflowing with people who can hear, but not listen. Listening is simply not self-evident – for some it comes by nature, most of us must learn.

I’m a social extrovert. I love to talk, express myself, and vividly participate in conversation. They’re not all bad characteristics, but shame on me. Because all too often, I’m a lousy listener. The fact that I acknowledge this is of course a first, but I infuriate myself for forgetting to listen. When deep in conversation, I may get so carried away that yes, I hear the replies, but I’m too focused on providing my own content to really listen. This goes especially for when I’m communicating with my children, but also in social and work contexts. Recognize yourself on any level? I salute you if you can genuinely say that you have never found yourself in a similar situation, but I think most of us have been there. In fact, I believe a lot of us may consider ourselves much better listeners than what we are in reality.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”                    – Dalai Lama XIV

We recently held our final PTA board meeting before going on summer holidays. There was a lot to discuss and several ideas and opinions shared. We’re a tight knit group and have a lot of fun together, and even though we work hard, it’s still mainly a fun hobby. Mid-meeting, suddenly another mother blurted out “You keep putting words into other’s mouths!” I apologized immediately, no-one else seemed to react, and the happy chit-chat and discussion continued as previously. But not on my behalf. I was genuinely apologetic. Once she said it out loud, I realized it myself too. I acknowledged that I had finished off other people’s sentences and jumped to conclusions mid-sentence several times that evening.

Listening instead of interrupting

There are great cultural differences to what the norms of conversation are. Most people however appreciate being allowed to finish their sentences, be heard and not interrupted. I presume the majority don’t intend to be mean or rude (I know I don’t), but that’s exactly what it is. It’s rude to cut someone off mid-sentence. It can feel hurtful to have your sentence finished off for you or have words put into your mouth. And in reality, when we’re not providing our undivided attention to really listen to what’s being said, chances are we’re probably unknowingly missing out on a lot. Were we to allow everyone to finish and explain themselves, I believe the world would have a fraction of the conflicts it faces today.

Then why don’t we do that? Why is it sometimes so difficult to let someone speak their mind before we interrupt them? Are we afraid of what they may say? Not interested? Too self-centered? In too much of a hurry? I honestly don’t know. I do however know though that this is a challenge that I’m going to step up to: Learn to become a better listener.

Taking in context

I’m generally a quick reader. I can skim through text and pick up relevant key factors with quite an ease. This is a perk in many ways and a valuable skill. Somewhere along the line though, this skill has apparently gotten blended into my listening skills. The difference between written context and verbal speech is that I won’t offend anyone if I make conclusions along the way as I read for myself. I can also quickly adapt my conclusions as I continue skimming through the text. In conversation though, commenting a conclusion or interrupting someone before their finished speaking just isn’t the same.

According to Leslie Shore, author of a book called Listen to Succeed,  “When we begin working on a reply before the speaker is finished, we lose both the complete information being offered and an understanding of the kind of emotion present in the speaker’s delivery.” Spot on.

How do you become a better listener?

I compiled this list through various sources, among others, articles I came across in Harvard Business Review, Psychology today and Scientific American. They’re all pretty great articles, HBR as a publication is a personal favorite, so I’m slightly biased to say their article was also the best out of these three. The internet is full of great advice and publications, but if you want to skip corners, take a look at the below list:

  • Be curious! Focus on wanting to know more, be interested. You never know what you could learn!
  • Know your limits – if you’re not up for conversation, say it right away and explain yourself: “I know this is important to you, but I’m exhausted/stressed/too busy to be able to provide you with my full attention right now. Can we please talk about this tonight/first thing tomorrow..” It’s always better to be honest than to listen halfheartedly or pretend you’re paying attention – especially in social context. If it’s work or business, well, (wo)man it up and do what you need to do.
  • Pay attention to and understand what is being said. Now this sounds obvious, but in practice, it’s not. If you don’t understand their point (or your mind wandered), ask for clarification! More than often the speaker will appreciate it, and also re-formulate their wording.
  • Make a conscious decision to whether you should just listen and follow-up with possible additional questions or if your interrupted input is genuinely necessary. Be rational. Interrupting isn’t very polite, but sometimes it is simply necessary. Be aware of the situation and the context.
“Empathy deals with shared experiences — sometimes we don’t have many, but in the big picture we’re all really more the same than we are different.”                   – Philip Tirpak
  • Try to avoid thinking about your next reply while someone else is speaking. There’s a great chance your prediction of what the other person is going to say is off. Choose to rather listen to the end – then think of your reply. Pausing ever-so-slightly before you reply will also show that you weren’t just waiting for the other person to finish talking, but that you’re also taking a brief moment to consider what has been said.
  • Participate in the conversation but don’t rule it. Share your thoughts with an open-mind and listen to others with the same attitude. Ask for input and clarifications. If you’re not giving a presentation, don’t act like it.Learning to listen

Becoming a great listener, or even a good listener, should be on all our bucket lists. I’m going to genuinely work on this skill, not just for myself, but for everyone around me. My spouse and kids deserve to be heard. My friends and extended family deserve a good listener. And my employer and co-workers shouldn’t go unnoticed. I can’t (won’t) change my extrovert personality, that’s who I am, but I can change how I interact with others, and so can you.

A pat of good luck on the back for all of us accepting the challenge of learning to listen!

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Learning to listen

  1. I love this Ida, i am like you i don’t intentionally be rude but i do need to learn to be a better listener. The tips at the end are great. Thank you

    1. Thank you 🌸 I’ve now really started to pay attention to my listening, and it’s actually pretty difficult! But practice makes perfect, I’ll get there! Definitely not a skill that can be mastered over night though..

  2. This is a great article and a great reminder for me. I tend to formulate my response while someone is speaking instead of listening … so this is a good reminder to LISTEN! Thanks!!

    1. Thank you! 🌸 I think that’s exactly the biggest issue that most people have, listening with the intent to reply instead of understand.. Caused perhaps by hectic and all-too busy lives?

  3. Great post! I sometimes worry that I don’t listen when I should be. Although, I do try and make the effort as often as I can. I get a pang of guilt whenever I respond to somebody with my own experiences rather than comment on what they just expressed. I guess it’s natural to want to relate to somebody and one would generally do that by relating to their own experience. It’s a grey area and sometimes a fine line. Well done for putting together those helpful articles!

    1. Thank you for such a great comment! I really enjoyed writing this post and in all honesty I could’ve listed another dozen articles, but I stuck to my favorites this time. You’re definitely right about the grey area! Considering that genuine empathy requires some level of relating and sharing experiences, I think responding like you do is very natural. It’s always easier to reflect through own experiences rather than another person’s, which is why I presume we’ll often unintentionally choose our “own story” over the other’s.

  4. It took me a while to learn how to listen and be fully present in a conversation. With my children, sometimes, as I was trying to find answers for them, I realized that I was not fully listening. It took times, but now, I have the active listening skill,

  5. This is a great read! I am definitely guilty of assuming what someone will say and then having my response ready before they get the chance to say it. Especially with the people I know the best (like my husband!). I loved the tips at the end. Thanks for sharing!!

  6. What an amazing post! The World would be a much better place and people would start understanding each other so much better; if they just start to listen! :)x Love the tips you put on how to listen better too, and I really like that quote from Dalai Lama. Thank you for sharing!

  7. This was actually really interesting. In my group of friends, I am the one they come to when they need someone to listen (I always joke that I am rubbish at offering advice but I will always be ready to listen if they need to share). So it was interesting for me to see it from the other side.

    And someone loved this post so much, they added it to the BlogCrush linky! Congratulations! Feel free to collect your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂 #blogcrush

    1. Oh wow, thank you! I admire people like you who have a natural talent for listening. It’s seriously a surprisingly difficult skill to learn, but I’m working on it. 🙂

  8. This is a great post. I am really bad for formulating my reply before a person is finished talking. It drives my husband nuts!
    The art of listening is also being lost because of technology.

    Thank you for sharing!

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