Ever wonder why listening matters so much? And how it can change the entire dynamic between two people?
A week ago, I was out to dinner with a group of friends. My one friend, Liv, happens to be a great storyteller. While sipping her chardonnay, she leaned in to tell us all a story. “Did I tell you what happened at Jessie’s prom? It was quite the ordeal!” She then went on and on about how Jessie’s date invited a group of teens to his parent’s beach house for an after-party, and that the police came and broke it up around 2 am.
Then, Laura started sharing her version of the same night through her daughter’s eyes. “Apparently, they had enough alcohol to drown the city. They overdid it!”
While they were sharing, I felt the urge to share a story about my daughter, but my story had a different tone. It wasn’t about the typical, lighthearted drama of prom season. I was sad because I missed my daughter’s prom entirely. She was living 2000 miles away with her dad at that time. I said, “You guys are lucky! Prom season was tough for me….”
No more than 3 seconds later, Liv cut me off. Instead of listening, she started sharing more about Jessie’s prom dress and how it got ruined at the party.
I felt hurt. I wanted to connect but couldn’t. I felt like my friends weren’t interested.
A few days later, I was with a different group of friends, taking a walk along a trail near my house. This time, the energy was so different. I felt my friends Sara and Kate were genuinely listening. I was able to share my story with them, and this time I left feeling connected, supported, and valued.
Why do you feel more comfortable with certain people and feel that they truly care? Maybe it’s because they’re listening! And what’s the main reason why listening matters so much?
People want to feel heard and understood.
There seems to be a “give and take” rhythm in conversations. Still, when you often stop and notice that many people are talking, who is listening?
I was a practicing optometrist for many years, and the primary role I played at work was of an active listener.
While working, I was always surprised by how much people needed to feel heard. I knew this because as I went to the sink to wash my hands and worked to prepare the equipment, they would tell me stories about their aging mothers, rebellious teenagers, etc. Active listening was one of my favorite parts of my job. I enjoyed being there for my patients and building a sense of trust.
So decided to research why listening matters and how it benefits the listener and the talker. Here’s what I found:
1. Mindful listening brings you into the moment.
“Listening, more than any other activity plugs you into life. Listening helps you understand yourself as much as those speaking to you.” Kate Murphy of You’re Not Listening
You’re becoming more aware if you’re listening and you pay attention. You’re observing the person in front of you with intent. Also, you’re observing your own mind as it wanders and can gently bring it back to the person talking.
This state of observing, or awareness, connects us to the moment we’re in. A fully engaged form of listening allows us to do just that!
2. Listening offers people something they desperately need – to feel heard and understood.
Do you know the feeling when someone genuinely listens and connects with you? There’s nothing quite like it. It’s as if they’re experiencing your energy. In this world of 24/7 distraction, it feels flattering. Like, “Oh, this person is so nice. They seem interested in learning about me and what I have to say.”
Unfortunately, this seems to be a rarity these days, and it’s even worse with technology. But when people listen, it shows that they are interested in you. They want to get to know you!
A way to show your love and affection for someone is to choose to engage in deep listening. That’s why listening matters! You’re showing that you DO care.
3. Through listening, you can bring open, relaxed energy to loved ones.
Maintaining eye contact and embodying open, relaxed energy are keys to listening mindfully.
Throughout the day, you may be very distracted and busy. Changing your energy to engage while listening feels like a welcoming gesture for the person in your home needing to share with you.
Enjoy the shift from doing to being as you turn on your listening skills at home.
4. Listening matters because you can discover how everyone has something unique to offer.
Do you know that feeling of dread when you think of seeing that irritating neighbor at your next block party?
Well, the problem might not be that person. It might be that you haven’t taken the time to get to know your neighbor. Because, according to Kate Murphy, everybody is interesting if you ask the right questions.
Maybe something is exciting that you could learn from this person. Or, perhaps this person knows something that could inspire you in a way you couldn’t have imagined.
Try thinking of new questions to ask – and listen closely to the answers.
5. You can connect with others by listening for things you have in common.
Listening with intention allows you to discover things you have in common, gradually building a rapport.
Maybe there are things you have in common that you don’t even realize. For example, did you know your coworker Mary is from the same hometown as your Uncle John? Maybe they’ve even been to the same restaurants or attended the same high school.
If we’re willing to dig deep enough, we’ll find more in common than we can imagine.
It might even be something more personal – like you both love country music and happened to be at the same Garth Brooks concert last year.
6. Providing thoughtful, insightful comments may help loved ones figure something out.
Active listening requires you to respond with meaningful feedback along the way.
“What I hear you say is …” is a thoughtful response to many situations because you reaffirm that you’ve heard your friend’s story correctly. But, unfortunately, so many times, we miss a detail, and the story gets lost in translation.
Another great response is, “Based on what you just said, is it safe to assume that ….” In this case, you’re repeating back what your friend has said while requesting even more clarification.
However, it’s essential to refrain from suggesting solutions. Your loved one is more than capable of coming up with the answers they seek.
You’re there as a loving, safe place for them to work it all out, and your insightful comments may help resolve whatever issue is at hand.
7. Listening matters because you get to engage with your eyes, too!
We don’t just listen with our ears. We also listen with our eyes!
A great listener observes nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions, posture, respiration rates, small gestures, and numerous other subtle body language signals.
This is great mindfulness practice! Practicing this reminds me of number one above again. Through listening, we become aware and mindfully step back into the place of the observer.
8. When someone is upset – you can provide a safe place for them to express themselves.
When my friend Charlotte calls with a problem, she needs my full attention and a safe place to vent. Giving her feedback doesn’t help.
According to Kate Murphy, “If you jump in to fix, advise, correct, or distract, you communicate that the other person can’t handle the situation.”
Reading this left me floored. It’s so rare that someone can allow another to express their feelings and respond with such neutral, supportive feedback.
Sometimes I want to jump in and try to fix the problem. But it’s true – we’re actually invalidating our loved ones when we do that. Instead, we can try to listen, affirm, and allow them to come to a new decision or solution.
9. Listening helps you to figure out who people are.
Ugh! Is this ever true? So often, I’ve wasted time and energy on people that weren’t genuinely worth my time or effort. I guess you can say I had “selective listening.”
You know that saying from Maya Angelou, “People show you who they are – believe them the first time.” So, we all need to listen carefully to learn quickly.
People do show you who they are – but are you listening? Or are you pretending to hear something that’s not there? Listening helps to understand people’s mindsets and motivations. Seeing this early on can help draw you closer to a person or turn you away from them. Both options can serve you well in the end,
10. Listening allows us to stop judging and making assumptions.
Do you know how it feels to be sitting in judgment as someone tells their story? Deferring judgment is key to active listening.
Judging others keeps them away from us. We’re choosing not to let them in.
Another benefit of listening is that we improve our relationships by not assuming. We give people a chance. And we want to hear them out. By asking open-ended questions, we can learn to understand our loved ones more. This improves our chances of having a healthy connection.
11. Aim to listen more – so that you can regret less.
“People tend to regret not listening more than listening and regret things they said more than things they didn’t say.” – Kate Murphy, You’re Not Listening.
Listening attentively matters because it’s a generous offering of ourselves. By listening carefully and giving our full attention, we choose to show up for our loved ones. This makes active listening a superpower indeed!
Stepping back into the busy summer season, it’s the perfect time to brush up on our listening skills! Let me know how it goes!
(This story was originally published on June 15, 2021, and has been updated for thoroughness.)