Today’s topic is how we listen. I think it's pretty common to consider listening as the pause before we get our turn to speak again. It’s easy to interrupt, hurry someone along, or assume you know what they are sharing. When that happens, we’re not connected with our team, our partner, or our friendships and our relationships become very transactional.
How can we become listeners?
Below, I have five ways I’ve found have helped me make conversations rich and rewarding.
1/ Be present
When listening to someone else, put down your phone, or the book, or your fork, and give them your full, undivided attention. This is so rare, it may feel very unusual at first. We’re used to multitasking or half-listening. Watch how the conversation changes when you’re actually both present. To be present, focus on taking a breath in and a breath out. Acknowledge your own emotion in the moment. Continue breathing and listening.
2 / Listen for emotion behind the words
Listen beyond the words or the story. Listen for the emotion or mood. Your spouse may be sharing the same long story (again) but listen for the subtext. What’s behind the story? What can you hear between the words? Are they sad? Proud? Frustrated? If you can’t pinpoint what emotion might be behind the words, you can always ask, “How’d that make you feel?” or “How do you feel about that?” You’re not responsible for guessing someone else’s emotions but deep listening can help you tune into what’s happening beyond their words.
3 / Don't fix
When someone is sharing their experience, you are not required to fix it, or give advice, or share your own related experience. You can simply witness their story with your full undivided attention and presence. When someone finishes speaking, you may even allow a few moments of silence. Acknowledge the moment. Give a beat without rushing into the next topic. If you want to be of service, you can always ask, “How can I support you?”
4 / Ask open questions
Questions without a specific agenda can also help give depth to your understanding and make your conversation rich. Open ended questions might include things like, “How did this change you?” “What did you wish would have happened differently?” “Tell me more.”
5 / Reflect back
A final phase of listening is reflecting and repeating what you heard. My coach calls this “sharing what you listened”. Because what was said may be different from what you listened. This is especially important if there is tension or disagreement and you sincerely want to better understand. “Here’s what I listened as you talked…. Is that right?”
Truly listening and being present for another human being is profound and healing. You may be surprised how much you learn by being open to the person and the moment right in front of you. Listening, or being listened to, can be intense or uncomfortable at first because frankly, being disconnected is so “normal”. So, find a place to start that’s manageable. Experiment. Try listening with your eyes closed. Try listening while being physically connected. Try listening when you aren’t hungry or rushed or highly emotional. Give yourself the space to listen.