Sorry to say this, but most of us just suck at listening. We are all the center of our own little universe, and we are all just way too interested in what’s happening in this universe rather than anyone else’s. When we talk, we talk about ourselves, and when we “listen”, we think about what to say about ourselves. In the rare cases where somebody tells us a story and we listen, we will say “hey, something like that happened to me, too! It was like this..” and, surprise, surprise, the focus of the conversation is back to ourselves. I am no exception to this. That’s why I decided to work on my own listening skills. In his great book “The Lost Art of Listening“, Michael Nichols talks about the guidelines for listening. Let’s have a look!
Concentrate on the person you are talking with!
- Forget your own business. For the time the other person talks, bring your attention fully to whatever he or she is saying. Forget for a moment what you will have for lunch, the secret your best friend told you about, or anything else that’s on your mind. Imagine the person you are talking with is the most exciting person you ever met. What he or she is saying is so amazing that you just can’t stop paying attention.
- Do not interrupt her. Never! There is only one exception to this: say something like: “tell me more”, “go on”, or “what happened next?”. Basically anything that shows your interest in what she is saying and that will make her comfortable to keep on talking
Work hard to really understand what the other person is saying!
- Listening is not the same thing as hearing. You can hear somebody’s word, you can even able to repeat word by word what she is saying, without actually understanding what she means. The important thing is not to hear, but to try and grasp her thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself: what is he or she really trying to say?
- Be emphatic. Try to see the issue from her perspective. She is super angry and you don’t understand why. It wasn’t a big deal, right? Maybe it was for her, in her particular circumstances. Try to understand the background story. If you don’t know enough about it, ask more questions to find out. The point will come when you understand what the real issue is
Communicate her that you understand what she is trying to say!
- Most people just want to be heard and listened to. When they tell you their stories, they often do not want your advice. They just need to get it out. Instead of giving in to the urge of giving your opinion, simply paraphrase what she is saying, ask if the way you understood her is correct, and state how you think she feels about it. It’s the best way to make her feel heard.
- Give comments which show that you emphasize with her. Say something like: “Oh, that sounds like it would make me feel annoyed. How did you feel about it?”
- Instead of bringing the focus of the conversation to yourself (“that happened to me, too!”) , encourage her to tell you more and provide more details.
As you can see, the goal is to get the focus of the conversation away from you.
Of course you can also offer your own experiences now and then, but when you really want to listen, make your partner the center of attention for a while. Ignore your own opinion, thoughts and feelings for a while and instead give your full attention to him or her’s. Just give it a try a few times and then share with us in the comment section whether or not you can feel the difference.