Vulnerability Alert: After reading Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly”, I thought now would be a great time to discuss a little more vulnerable topic. Let’s talk about my last year and what I learned about listening.
To say this was a year of self-care, self-awareness and self-reflection is an understatement. I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned a lot about people. I have learned a lot about a lot of things, and perhaps I will share all those learnings another day.
Today I wanted to share what I have learned about my own self-awareness around listening. I have been an inconsistent listener to say the least. I often don’t stay in the moment, I think about myself, my day, my next question, and how the person talking makes me feel. I bring in judgment and have my own intentions for the conversation. Now we can get into the psychobabble on why I have approached listening in this way, but I don’t think anyone needs the boring details of that.
I learned this year the importance of listening and how better listening skills can foster more meaningful relationships, real connections, and increased knowledge about myself and others. I care deeply about the people in my life and I want to have conversations that are balanced and supportive.
Listen up! Here is what I’ve got to share:
- Being in the moment: Listening is about being in the moment and fully showing up for yourself and others
- Feeling understood: When we talk we want to know we are understood. When we listen, the speaker wants to know they are being understood. Simply repeat back to the speaker what you think they feel so they can confirm or correct if you understand them. “You feel like no one at work is appreciative of your efforts and you feel not valued” might be an example of demonstrating that you understand
- Clues to what is important: If you listen, you can determine what it is your friend, client, partner, or family member might be communicating regarding what is important to them. This can allow you to stop and prompt them to continue on the topic to help guide them in better understanding themselves and to feel connected as well as for you to better support them. It could also just mean talking more about what they are passionate about and what gets them excited and inspired
- Empathic listening vs. problem solving: There are different kinds of listening. I was taught that two types of listening include to help solve a problem or to be empathic. Men in general often are more natural problem solvers as listeners and women are more natural at empathizing when listening. Sometimes listening is just about giving a safe space to listen and provide empathy
- Check your ego at the door: Most of the time it isn’t about you! We are often too quick to share a story, try to problem solve, try to relate or somehow bring our own ego into the conversation. We also start thinking about ourselves and similar situations we had and our own emotions and energies get involved. Remember, most of the time it isn’t about you, even when the other person might say it is. Also, getting defensive is usually not the best approach either. Your go-to should be empathetic listening
- Neutral listening: Listening in a position of neutrality can be hard but try practising it sometimes by leaving your own emotions and opinions out and actively take in what is being said. Feel at ease knowing that you have no responsibility to provide any further action on this information other than being a receiver
- Protect your energy: Sometimes you involuntarily listen to people or others can share upsetting topics that may not relate to you or they may project on to you. It is important to not absorb their negative energy when their topic or concerns have nothing to do with you. Often I will think in my head “projecting” when I know the speaker is offloading and I need to just listen, put my guard up and protect myself while still offering support and understanding
- Ask what the listener needs from you: Sometimes it can be unclear what the listener is looking for regarding your attention and ear. Just ask them! Also, same goes for you. Ask for the kind of listening you may need. I often will have to ask my partner to provide empathy and support and that I am not looking for him to brainstorm or problem solve. This way I am setting him up for success as a listener
- Plan for listening time: When people say to me “You’re not listening” I sometimes get frustrated if I was in the middle of a task that they interrupted and did not provide me with the opportunity to be able to fully engage. It is important that as both listeners and speakers that we recognize that some topics do require undivided attention and a little bit of planning can go a long way
- Pause – not just for dramatic effect: It is important to pause. When you speak or others speak. It’s OK to fill space with silence to reflect on what was said. Try it. You will be surprised how much insights can come to light or how deep the topic will go with a little pause
- Stop what you are doing: With all the distractions we can have it is increasingly important to make a conscious effort to stop what we are doing and provid our undivided attention. People remember how you make them feel. When you can take 5 to 10 minutes of your day to just be there fully, it creates trust in your relationship and helps the person feel cared for
- Remove judgment: It is very natural to bring in judgements as we listen and communicate. It may be hard to completely remove judgment but to simply recognize that you have made a judgment (mostly based on your own insecurities) allows you to quickly remove that judgement and move your attention back to the speaker
- Recommend additional support: People can confide in you with concerns that you may feel are best for someone with more experience in those particular topics. It is 100% OK to say that you want to support them the best you can but you don’t feel like you have the expertise to provide guidance and recommend that they consider seeking professional support
- Listen to yourself: Listening doesn’t just need to be about taking in other people’s verbal cues. You can pick up on your own thoughts and determine how you feel by tuning in, trusting your gut and listening to what your body and mind are trying to tell you. Make time to be your own listener. I meditate, journal, walk my dog in silence and practice yoga and reiki. Not just woo-woo, there is lots of science behind the importance of listening to yourself, too.
“My motto, my broadcast motto all my life, I never learned anything when I was talking.” Larry King