Our environments have become increasingly and worryingly noisier. We talk and text constantly on mobile phones. It's the norm to see couples and friends out eating and drinking, and everyone will have their heads down texting or tweeting, even whilst in conversation.
So it's not surprising that as our digital talk increases we've steadily become poorer listeners, not better ones. So how does one become a better listener and can you learn to listen well?
Most people have learnt to be partial or conversational listeners, which we'll describe as level 1 listening. By default we've become adept at a type of hearing which processes information through our own personal filters. These filters are instant barriers to listening well because they're based not on what is being said but on our own personal beliefs, attitudes and assumptions. We filter what we hear so it fits into our own perspectives and views. We can't stand in the other person's shoes because we're too busy working out what we think and what we want to say next. Before you know it, we've interrupted the speaker, dived in, had our say, given advice or turned the conversation and focus onto us. We can do all this at the same time as listening to music, texting or being generally distracted.
I'm as guilty as the next person. In my professional life I get paid to listen and it has taken years to do it well and wholeheartedly. But on more than one occasion at social events I've caught myself interrupting people mid sentence, thinking about what I think or want to say next (in the midst of the other person speaking, which means I'm not really listening to what they're saying). Rather than focus my full attention on the other person I've hijacked conversations; as soon as I could I jumped in, told stories and relayed my own personal experiences. Just the other week my partner caught me out when my response to something that was being said clearly indicated I hadn't listened.
Real listening begins at level two where your level of consciousness and self-awareness is far more pronounced and tuned in.
You're more likely to drop below the words and tune into the tone of voice, the volume range, the rhythm, flow and speaking pace, are there hesitations, jumps, gulps clenching for breath. How are they standing or sitting? Notice this with soft eyes. Hard focused is limited in it range. Soft focus has greater visibility. What might the person's body language be telling you?
At this level you've consciously turned down the volume on your own thoughts and opinions so you can listen as impartially as is possible without your own stuff getting in the way.
The primary goal at this level is to listen to understand. One way to check this out is to reflect back or paraphrase what you think the other person is saying. Not word for word but as close to their language and way of speaking as possible. This will show listeners they have been listened to and understood.
Level 3 is a deeper, intuitive extension of level 2 listening. At this level listening becomes an expanded sensory experience.
When we are most attuned as listeners we go beyond the verbal and non-verbal cues to a place where we access and connect with less obvious knowledge and information without concrete hard data or evidence. We activate our intuitive intelligence. Think of a time when you've experienced intuition in a conversation. What contributed to this? What was the quality of your presence and listening like? Now in your new conversations try to do more of what contributed to your past intuitive experiences.
More ideas about how to become a better listener:
- Make time for silence at some point in your day so you can be with your own thoughts. This way you will have more space to listen to others and not spill into other conversations.
- Empty your mind so your filters and values don't contaminate what the other person is sharing. Write in a journal, do some form of relaxation or take a few deep breaths to clear your mind.
- Becoming a better observer will develop your capacity for better quality listening.
- In conversations ask (questions) more than you tell (give advice or say what you think).
- Paraphrase what you've heard and reflect back before you share or say what you think or feel.
- Experiment with allowing more natural pauses and silences in conversations and see what happens.
- Become curious in conversations. Adopt an enquiring mind rather than one that is already decided and closed.
- When you find yourself slipping back into your own thoughts bring yourself back. No need to make a big deal. Notice it, change it and refocus.
There is real value in being listened to. In the book Living The Questions, Thomas F Beech wrote, “ When someone really listens to me, I feel really affirmed …". When we listen non-judgmentally we communicate empathy and compassion to the other person. They in return feel acknowledged and valued, and this enables them to feel more empowered and resourceful. The listener doesn't have to fix or do anything to make things right. Think of how different life and work would be if we all learnt to listen well. The quality of deep listening can be life enhancing and life changing.