Updated: May 3, 2020
Last week I spent some time writing on the general topic of listening, and touched on the numerous benefits you can reap by becoming a better listener.
One of those is improvement in your relationships.
Learning how to truly listen to others is a skill that many of us probably think we are significantly better than we genuinely are.
How many times have you been in a disagreement with someone in your family and you’ve been told “you aren’t listening to me”?
Most of us are in the habit of listening to respond, meaning, we are listening to the other person’s words, and in our brains we are focused on formulating what we are going to say in response. This usually involves formulating a judgment or opinion on what the other person is saying very quickly. As our brains are working on our response, we risk missing some of what the other person is trying to convey, and, you risk formulating a judgment so quickly that you haven’t allowed yourself time to truly contemplate and process what the other person is telling you. As a result, the other person likely feels discounted and disrespected, even though you may have never intended to make them feel that way. Disappointment for everyone involved.
The good news is, listening is something that we can all improve upon easily by being more mindful when we are in conversations and discussions with others.
The next time you are talking with someone in your family or a close friend, try practicing the following steps of “other-focused listening”:
Position yourself physically in a way that is conducive to giving them your full attention. Sit next to or across from them, relaxed, (no folded arms, which will make you look guarded). This may sound simple and silly, but just your body language alone will message to the other person that you are engaged in the conversation and not distracted by other things. Focus on looking at them during the conversation, and resist the urge to look at your watch, and definitely put the mobile phone away.
Make the goal of the conversation to just absorb what the other person is telling you. Release any idea of needing to respond in any way beyond just acknowledging and absorbing what is being said to you. I might even recommend that you tell the other person that you are working on how to be a better listener. Stating your intention aloud to the other person will likely resonant positively with them, in and of itself.
An example of practicing “other-focused listening”: your spouse comes home from work and says to you, “ Wow, I had a really tough day at the office. My boss pulled me aside and wants to have a meeting with me tomorrow about some complaints that he has heard about a project I finished last week”. You might be tempted to respond based on the emotions this conjures for you, such as fear that your spouse’s job is at risk, and how that impacts your family. Resist the tendency to respond from your emotions. Instead, consider responding with: “Gosh, that sounds stressful. What are your thoughts on what might have prompted this?” This acknowledges how your spouse is likely feeling, and focuses your attention on them and their situation. An alternate response of “Gosh that sounds stressful. I hope it doesn’t escalate because we can’t afford for anything to happen to your job”. This response turns the attention to you and how what your spouse just told you impacts you versus focusing your attention on what they might be experiencing.
Other-focused listening is not easy. It goes against our natural tendencies to remove the focus from ourselves, and shift to 100% to the other person. There are subtle cues we give others that hints to them they are not getting our full attention, but by being mindful about our body language, our words, and our intentions, we can make big strides in gaining trust in others. Simply being present for them shows people how much we care for them.
Have a healthy & mindful week!