In the wake of so many months of isolation, it may seem out of place to question, “Why is listening so important?” Over the past few weeks, reentering the world got me thinking more about listening, talking, and the balanced between the two.
In fact, last week I (finally!) had a group of friends come to my house for dinner. As I was upstairs getting ready, I felt a quick wave of anxiety. I thought to myself, “It’s been SO LONG since I’ve been in the company of a group of friends… inside and maskless.” I wondered for a moment how it would feel to have conversations in person. It’d been a while!
Soon after, everyone arrived, and we gathered in my living room for appetizers. The conversations rolled along easily. Everyone seemed so happy to be together! We were all enthusiastically chatted away.
People want to feel heard and understood
The “give and take” of conversations got me thinking more about the art of listening. It’s something I’ve looked into before. 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 they would often tell me many stories about their aging mothers, rebellious teenagers, etc. That was my favorite part of my job. I enjoyed being there for them.
However, now that we’re back OUT THERE, I thought it would be fun to review tips on listening well. I guess it’s fair to say that it represents half of all conversations we have every day. I want to enter this new “super social” time, ready to engage and ready to listen in.
Being my nerdy self ( I love to study and learn about many things), I decided to get on that right away! Here are some of my findings:
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
If you’re listening, you’re becoming more aware. You’re observing the person in front of you with intent. Also, you’re observing your own mind as it wanders, often trying to come up with the proper response to the person’s commentary.
This state of observing, or awareness, connects us to the moment we’re in. A fully engaged state of listening allows us to do just that!
2. Listening offers people something they desperately need – to feel heard and understood.
You know the feeling when someone is genuinely listening? There’s nothing quite like it. It’s as if they are experiencing your energy. In this world of 24/7 distraction, it can actually feel flattering. Like, “Oh, this person is so nice. They seem so interested in learning all about me.”
Unfortunately, it seems to occur rarely these days. 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 listen actively. You’re showing that you DO care. Their thoughts and feelings are important to you. You want to understand and connect with your loved one.
3. Through listening, you can bring open, relaxed energy to loved ones.
Maintaining eye contact and keeping open, relaxed energy are keys to listening mindfully.
At other times throughout the day, you may find yourself to be very distracted and busy. Changing your energy to engage while listening is a welcome change 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. You can discover that 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 there’s something exciting that you could learn from this person. Or, maybe 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.
Seeking the things you have in common and gradually building rapport is a great way to engage with anyone.
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 before or went to the same high school.
If we’re willing to dig deep enough, we are sure to 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. You can validate others by providing thoughtful, insightful comments.
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’re reaffirming 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 important 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. The person you’re listening to wants to feel validated and understood.
7. 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.
Practicing this reminds me of number one above again. We become aware and mindfully step back into the place of the observer. This is great mindfulness practice!
8. Even when someone is upset – you provide a safe place for them to express themselves.
According to Kate Murphy, “If you jump in to fix, advise, correct, or distract, you are communicating that the other person doesn’t have the ability to handle the situation.”
Reading this left me floored. It’s so rare – that person that can allow another to express their feelings and respond with such neutral, supportive feedback.
It seems much more reflexive to jump in and try to fix the problem. But it’s true – we’re actually invalidating our loved ones. 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 really 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, basically, we all need to listen carefully to learn quickly.
I guess 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 it can 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? Well, we’ll get caught in our tracks if we do that. Deferring judgment is a key to active listening. This goes back to number one again. Listening is an act of mindfulness that brings us right back into this moment.
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. We get to know how they actually feel about this and that. This improves our chance 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 tend to regret things they said more than things they didn’t say.” – Kate Murphy, You’re Not Listening.
Listening attentively is a generous offering of ourselves. By listening carefully, we’re choosing to show up for our loved ones. We’re giving them space to feel heard and understood.
Stepping back into our social lives again (Yay!), it’s the perfect time to practice mindful listening. Let me know how it goes!