Do You Hear or Are You Listening?
When my kids were little and engaging in the act of justifying why they were “more” right than the other, I often told them, “I can hear what you are saying but I’m not listening!” That was their cue that their argument held little weight and I was tired of them repeating what they were saying in the waning hopes of winning. My real point of that example is that hearing and listening are completely different animals.
How many times has your spouse or child said something to you and you answered without even thinking about it, only to have it come back to bite you in the ass? I’ll admit it; I have done it. Recently, my youngest said that he had asked me the previous day if he could go somewhere by himself and that I had given him permission to do it. When I came unglued and said, “there is absolutely no way I would have given you permission to go there by yourself,” he responded, “yes you did.” Everyone in the background was nodding that I had done exactly that! Granted, I was working and preoccupied, but that was no excuse! My real point of that example is that hearing and listening are completely different things.
So many articles have been written on what makes a good listener, and I have read every one I have come across thinking there is going to be some new insight. Much to my chagrin, nothing new has enlightened me. The floweriness of the description changes from author to author but in a nutshell, it always comes down to the same 5 things, which I have listed below.
One thing that is clearly pointed out in almost every article, is that this is an INCREDIBLY difficult skill to master and it most certainly requires the person themselves to be aware that it is a skill that needs improvement. It has been said, that the average person really only retains 25% of what they hear due to not concentrating on what is being said.
It might also come as a surprise to you, but to be a good communicator, you first need to be an active listener. Today’s effective leaders, in complete opposition to most of yesterday’s leaders, have learned to become active listeners. But you do not have to be a leader to improve your listening skills. Improving your own listening abilities will show the people you are interacting with that you care. You care enough to really listen!
Conscience/active/engaged listening requires the listener to:
1. Quiet the mind. Stop being preoccupied with your own thoughts. Give the speaker your undivided attention; hear them out – completely – without formulating a response, a solution or rejection of whatever they are speaking about.
2. Keep an open mind. There is no reason to form a conclusive response while the person is speaking. Listening intently should help you to understand the speaker’s point of view and improve the conversation that follows because you have all the information you need. Or you are enlightened enough to ask more open-ended questions to acquire more information.
3. Put away your own fears. For many people, operating from a place of fear is common. Meaning, they are afraid they might not get something right or say the wrong thing when they do speak, so interrupting and putting in their own two cents deflects the conversation from what the speaker is saying to what they are saying.
4. Focus on the speaker’s non-verbal cues. Combining the speaker’s body language with their verbal language will often help you to assess what is really being said. Their actual words may be saying one thing and their body language implying another.
5. Let the speaker know you care. Being an active listener and putting the person at ease is the first step in letting the speaker know you care. You can also nod, smile and ask questions when the time is right. Let them know you value their ideas.
Recognizing and understanding there is a problem is the first part of the solution. If you are aware, you can make a conscious decision to change.
The holiday season provides the perfect opportunity to hone those listening skills. Many people have a difficult time during the holidays and having someone really listen to what they are saying is sometimes the difference between an okay day and dreadful day. Could you lend someone that compassionate ear? Is someone close to you needing or wanting something that can only be illuminated by close listening? Are you that listener and bearer of such gifts? The specialness of giving during the holiday season can give you its support. Give the gift that costs nothing to give - listening.