- Have people been telling you to: “put down the phone and listen to me?”
- Do you talk more frequently with Siri than with the people you live with?
- Are you just waiting for the chance to check your messages when others speak?
If you are shamefully shaking your head “yes”, listen up!
It’s time for you to learn the skills of active listening. Sure, it takes effort; but so does learning any skill. And it’s worth it, as it pays ever-increasing benefits in your home life and work life.
Indeed, not listening is a primary source of distress in many families:
- “I could say something 100 times and he still doesn’t hear me.”
- “I won’t even tell her what I’m thinking because she’d jump down my throat before I even finish my sentence.”
And in many work situations:
- “We agreed that our appointment was between 10 and 11 and he thought he heard, ‘after 11’”.
- “I fired my financial advisor; she was more interested in selling her products than to listening to my concerns.”
Yes, it’s true that we live in an age of short attention spans, multiple distractions, increased restlessness and impatience. But, it’s best for you to try to overcome these factors, not use them as excuses.
So, let’s begin with “Active-Listening 101” which, for our purposes will be taught by, no, not a Ph.D. professor with credentials up the kazoo, but by a simple couple in love who knows that listening is caring.
This couple makes excellent eye contact. They show interest in what’s being said. They ask questions. They nod in agreement. They smile. They make a comment that moves the conversation along. They learn as they listen. They enjoy as they listen. They contribute as they listen. If they glance at their digital device, it is to share something with their love.
They intuitively know that active listening creates greater understanding. They know that it is important and worthwhile. They know that great listening is much more than just settling for the main gist of a conversation. They know that it is also being aware of the nuances, subtleties and context of what their loved one is saying.
Yes, a couple in love knows a great deal about active listening. And yet, as time passes, it’s not unusual for their listening skills to taper off. Direct eye contact is not always made. Listening is done with half an ear. Digital devices compete for attention. Reassuring nonverbal cues taper off.
Some of this change in listening skills is to be expected as people become more comfortable with one another. If left unchecked, however, instead of feeling listened to, cared for and respected, one or both people will now feel dismissed, disregarded and disrespected. Not good.
So, here’s what you must do to keep your listening skills sharp:
- Give your full attention to your partner. Don’t let your eyes wander to your phone, TV or other distractions in the room.
- Focus your mind. It’s easy to let your mind wander if you think you know what the person is going to say next.
- Don’t race to rebut the other person’s remarks with “yes but” retorts of your own.
- Listen before you plan how to respond. You’re not really listening if you’re busy thinking about your comeback.
- If you’re unsure of what your partner meant by what she said, ask constructive questions.
- Be aware of your body language. A good listener maintains eye contact, smiles, frowns, chuckles and nods head at appropriate moments.
It’s so frustrating when people speak and speak and speak, but no one is listening or understanding or appreciating what is being said. So, if you want to improve your relationships, begin with improving your listening skills. Take the time to focus on what’s being communicated to you. Defer judgment. Instead, hear the other person out and seek to understand, not to rebut.