When we listen, we usually aren’t hearing what the other person is saying. We’re too busy forming an opinion or drafting a response in our mind. We therefore listen to our own thoughts instead of what the other person is saying. How can we listen well?
A good listener empties herself enough to make space for all the words you need to say. By being a receptacle for your thoughts, she allows you to unload your burden into that space. How do we empty our minds enough to listen well? We need to stop doing 4 things.
How to listen well
1. Do not judge
We are quick to jump to conclusions and form opinions. Any time you find yourself thinking a thought that was not spoken by the other person, you are judging. You have introduced your own thinking into the situation. Leave that thought, and come back to what the person is actually saying.
2. Do not prepare a response
The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Once you start thinking about what you are going to say, you cannot effectively hear what the person is still saying. This means that whatever response you give is based on incomplete information and therefore not sound. And often, people don’t need a response. They just need to be heard.
3. Do not interrupt
Sometimes we are so eager to offer solutions that we interrupt the speaker. This is especially true of impatient people like myself. It can be agonising to let the other person go on and on when you are convinced that a few words from you will solve her problem.
4. Do not recommend solutions
When a person needs a listening ear, she is already confused and needs to sort out her thoughts. Talking is her way of distilling her thoughts, to see what is left at the end. Your advice will only introduce more ‘noise’ in her contemplations. A good listener seldom offers solutions, but understands that the person needs to work things out herself.
How can you listen better?
When listening poorly, you hear a fraction of what the other person is saying. When listening well, you hear almost 100% of what she said. And truly listening with the heart means that you hear more than 100%. You discerned thoughts and emotions that the person did not express. You are therefore able to respond to the whole person and not merely what she was capable of expressing in words.
I have been blessed with having good listeners in my life, for whom I am ever so grateful. I hope that someday I will be able to pay it forward.
To hone your listening skills further, read Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.