It’s important to be heard, so much so that we go to great lengths to do it; finding the right ‘spot’ for our cell phone connection, posting on social media, repeating ourselves, even yelling at times! Companies use commercials, coupons, online ads and all sorts of media in order to be heard. But, is anyone really listening? Are you listening?
It’s no secret that our digital age attention spans have shortened right along with our patience. What I don’t think most of us realize is that our listening skills have withered as well. In fact, sometimes we can’t even remember ‘where’ we ‘heard it’. How many of you have told someone a story, and finished with; “I think I read that on Facebook, or Google news, or maybe it was in the paper. I’m not sure, but I heard it somewhere.”?
Likewise, with online digital consumption, are you really ‘listening’ to what you’re hearing (reading), or mindlessly partaking in a time-wasting habit? We only have so many hours in a day, and frankly, so much time on this Earth. Listening, and being really present when you do it, is very important for our own development, and the building of relationships with others, but more on that later. Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of listening.
True listening entails many factors, but I believe at the heart of it is a combination of true desire and compassion. I have a whole toolbox of techniques and skills to share with you about how to listen, but first you must desire to be a better listener. You have to ask yourself if you really want to listen to your relative, neighbor, co-worker, family member, or if you’re just waiting to respond and talk.
Active listening begins with a blank slate. If you truly desire to be a better listener, and receive the message or words someone is trying to communicate, you have to first let go of many things:
- Your preconceived ideas
- The urge to talk
- Surrounding distractions
- Your agenda
After letting go of these barriers to truly listening, you begin to realize it’s like an art form, much of which centers around the eyes rather than the ears. Intentional use of our eyes, our body language and our mouths, are the three physical components comprising an active listening mindset. You can really improve your listening skills (and many relationships) by really hearing the person talking to you.
An active listening mindset includes effectively using:
Your eyes –
- Give your undivided attention and focus.
- Look the person in the eye.
- Avoid looking at a clock.
- Don’t fidget with something or doodle.
Your body language –
- Use positive body language to affirm the listener; a nod of the head, a smile, an expression that matches their emotion.
- Let the person ‘see’ you listening as if you’ll be tested or quizzed on the conversation.
- Make mental notes (or physical) to which you want to respond
- Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes as you listen.
- Really think about your response before talking.
- Keep your facial expressions in check.
Your mouth –
- Don’t interrupt.
- Refrain from asking about small details while someone is talking – save it for later.
- Begin talking only when the person is done, or at a natural pause.
- Resist the urge to ‘relate’ by sharing a similar story that is the same or ‘better’.
- Allow the person to finish their own thought rather than completing their sentence. You may be surprised at what they say versus what you anticipated to hear.
- Respond with conversation that reinforces what you heard.
- Don’t criticize or demean the person with negative feedback.
Active listening is challenging. We all have a story to tell, and want to be heard. However, the payout is great on many levels. On a basic level, you will truly receive and process what you hear, and benefit from it either professionally or personally. The upside could make your job easier, or help you understand a friend better.
An often unanticipated benefit of true listening is the incredible validation you offer to the speaker. Providing undivided attention; making a facial or emotional connection to their words; and speaking words that affirm what they said are all gifts to the listener. Together, they build trust with the listener, create a positive foundation for new relationships and bolster existing ones.
Another positive product of active listening is self-growth. The discipline it takes to actively listen will make you a stronger person, enable new learnings, and promote strong relationships and friendships. Combined, these benefits contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle, both on the job and on your own.
I encourage you to choose one thing to let go of, and one thing to engage in your next conversation and discover what the benefits have to offer. After you’ve tried it a few times, let me know how it went. I promise, I’ll listen.
©Copyright 2016. Kay Fittes. All Rights Reserved.