Are You A Good Listener?

Are You A Good Listener?

Did anyone ever instruct you on how to be a good listener?  Chances are good that no one did, so you are left to figure it out on your own.  Most of us are poor listeners at least some of the time.

Being a bad listener can cause us to miss important information being shared or keep us from knowing and understanding friends and family at a deeper level (the level of true connection); at times, our bad listening annoys others.

If you’d like to be a better listener, it’s like anything else you want to do better on, you have to first become aware and then focus on taking specific steps that will lead to better listening or other behaviors.

Leaping Ahead

Many of us have the habit of leaping ahead where we think the other person is going while they are still talking to us.  Sometimes we get it right; however, none of us is a mind reader and more often we draw the wrong conclusion and, in the process, miss important, helpful details.

For example, after agreeing earlier to a dinner date and place with your partner, he/she starts talking negatively about the restaurant or the food.  You jump ahead and assume that your partner does not want to spend the evening with you and you have not heard that your partner prefers a different kind of food that evening and wants to change the restaurant venue.  You’ve heard the saying, “it’s not all about you”?  The saying often fits when we take other’s comments personally.

Tuning Out

Another negative listening habit is to tune out to what the speaker is saying thinking it’s the same old conversation again.  When we tune out, again, we miss potential new information that could be helpful.

As an example, your partner begins talking about the logistics of the carpool schedule and that you are needed to pick up your son from soccer practice on Friday.  Friday evening comes and you arrive home without your son.  Oops!

Sometimes we tune out because we’ve heard something offensive or that stings us on an emotional level.  When we’re upset, parts of our brain shut down and we block out what’s being said because on some level we perceive danger.

For example, you and your partner have had an argument and you’re still talking to him when he suddenly gets up and says, “I cannot do this anymore and I need some space", storms off and goes to his computer.  You never really heard the boundary he set, all you saw was him leaving which stung you on an emotional level.

Planning Your Reply

One of the biggest negative habits is planning what you are going to say while someone is still talking.  Again, if you do this you are likely to miss important information and your reply might be off the mark because you missed nuances of the conversation.

Not Listening Deeply

Sometimes we are listening, but not deeply enough.  We hear the spoken word and miss the body language, often the most important part of the message.  When we listen deeply, we listen to the whole message – what the mouth, body and tone are all saying.  Paying attention to body language and to tone fills out the message being sent.  Deep listening requires presence and your full, undivided attention to the other without being distracted by your thoughts.  It is listening with compassion, empathy and patience.

So, You Want to Become A Good Listener

Some readers might say why bother.  There are some awesome benefits to being a better listener.  For starters, you’ll feel more connected to loved ones, friends and co-workers and they will have greater respect for you. 

You cannot simply show up for a conversation; you have to be fully present which means that your mind is fully engaged in what the other person is discussing.  Being fully engaged means that you might ask questions of the speaker to learn more, and that you are paying attention to the speaker’s tone and body language.  You are fully focused on the other person.

As you listen, you may find your mind beginning to wander.  It happens to us all.  When you are focused on creating change, your awareness is heightened, and you begin to catch your mind wondering.  It probably wandered before; however, you didn’t pay any attention.  This time your wandering mind comes into your awareness and you are mindful.  The next step is to prioritize the person who is speaking and refocus on them (words, tone and body language).  Just notice the wandering and let it go returning your focus to engaged listening.

Your partner will notice it when you are physically and mentally present during your conversations and will really appreciate you for it.  The relationship will be stronger and you will understand each other better because you are listening to the whole conversation, not just the words.  Listening in this way communicates to your partner that you really care about him/her and that he/she matters to you.  Engaged listening builds trust in you.  Conversations generally become deeper, more honest and fuller.

So, the next time your partner starts talking to you, stop what you are doing and fully engage in listening to him or her.  If you are unable to stop at that moment, let your partner know you are really interested in what they have to say and that you need 5 minutes to finish what you are doing so that you can give him/her your undivided attention.

Try it and enjoy the rewards!