Too often in conversations I find myself waiting to talk, instead of really hearing what the other person is trying to say. I also think being a good listener is a fading art form, especially in these modern times of social media and election coverage on full blast. So, I’m launching a personal campaign to truly hear what people are saying, instead of merely waiting my turn to be the one speaking.
I’ve come across several techniques to develop my listening skills. First up, repeating back (in your own words) what you’ve heard. Not every conversation lends itself to this scenario, but if you really want to make sure you’ve understood what the other person has said, quickly paraphrase their end of the discussion before giving your response. This is particularly helpful in meetings and work settings. Because if there’s ever a time and place to clarify what’s being said, it’s at work. Paraphrasing also helps to immediately show the person you’re communicating with that they have been heard.
Another technique I’ve encountered so far in my ‘Good Listening Campaign’ is to acknowledge the problem before offering solutions. And by encountered, I mean having been on the other end and felt I was not being heard when being told how to ‘fix the problem.’ So often just having someone ‘agree’ with what you’re saying can be more emotionally satisfying than a point-by-point run down of what to do next. Not every problem has a ready solution. When there is no clear answer in sight, listening and acknowledging a person’s feelings is all you can do.
One of my husband’s very good friends is a habitual interrupter in group conversation and it drives me crazy!!! So crazy in fact, that in one instance I started purposefully interrupting him to give him a taste of his own medicine, and so he could realize his conversational faux pas. Needless to say, that didn’t work out well at all. In the end I came to appreciate that this friend was just excited about the topics we discussed and wanted to share his thoughts. However, in general refraining from cutting someone off while they are speaking, no matter how excited you are, is a solid practice for a good listener. If you do find yourself talking to an interrupter, don’t get mad, but instead acknowledge their excitement and ask that they be mindful when other people are talking.
Often times when I don’t understand a topic I’ll just nod at whatever the person is saying and wait until the conversation turns towards a more familiar subject. This is kind of a lazy approach, and may be apparent to the speaker that I’m not listening to them. However, by asking questions it shows the speaker I’m engaged, and it’s a chance to learn something new. If I find myself really lost I ask them to start from the beginning and speak in ‘bullet points’ so I can grasp the main themes, and it focuses them on the specifics of the subject.
Lastly, a good listener does not judge. This is very tough for me, but thinking about it from the flip side, no one likes to feel as if they are being negatively evaluated when they speak, do they? Of course not! When someone is opening up to you, especially if they are seeking help, rushing to judgment is not helpful and can hinder your relationship moving forward. Parents especially should attempt this approach to show their kids that they trust them, and that you are there for them. I know, easier said than done and my child is only 11 months old, so I haven’t had to put this to the test in real life, yet. Someday I hope my daughter feels she can come to me and discuss her problems, even if they do put her in a bad light.
So, in this article about listening we’ve covered some relationship topics from the workplace to friendships, to the parent/child relationship. The point of being a good listener is really all about improving and continuing the relationships you have with those around you. Sure, some people in your life are more important than others, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone you encounter feels that you really hear them when they speak, and in turn listens when you talk? Wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if that they then pay it forward and become good listeners to others? And so on, and so forth? Then eventually we’d have a world full of good listeners! Yeah, that’s a bit of a naïve dream, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a good ideal to strive for. So, here’s to happy and good listening for you all!