Like promised in a previous post about talking, here I am, back with a post on “listening”. 🙂 As you might have guessed by now, this is not about “hearing”, its about “listening”. Not much of a difference, you might say. Well, read on and see for yourself.
Admittedly, I am not the first person to talk about this. There are a whole lot of resources out there – articles, essays, even books – on how to be a good listener. They will all tell you about how to pay attention to someone when they are talking, how to notice the non-verbal cues that they express, and tons of stuff like that. I like to keep things simple, though. While all that will indeed work for you, it is a lot of work digesting all that material and then putting it into practice. The way I handle it, it all boils down to one simple thing – “listen like you are the one talking”.
Now, this does not mean that you pitch in with your reactions/thoughts while the other person is talking. It only means that when you are listening, give the other person’s thoughts the same amount of importance that you would give to your own. We all have this innate desire to be heard and understood, and no one is an exception. When someone is talking to you, in effect, they are opening up a part of themselves to you, and thereby exposing themselves to being judged by you. No matter how serious or trivial the subject is, it does take some placing of trust in the listener to do that. So, when you listen, respect the trust that has been placed in you. Listening to someone is not a case study where you have to analyse a situation and pronounce a judgement. So don’t treat it like one. All the other person could want in you is someone to whom they can express their thoughts. Keep your thoughts to yourself unless asked. Basically, keep your mouth shut and mind open. 🙂
One more thing that comes to mind – do not react when you are listening. Reactions/reflexes are natural to us and if the person talking is close to us, we do react, at times impulsively. What this ends up achieving is that the other person also reacts to our reactions, and any further communication thereon is guided by a cycle of reactions and counter-reactions, not by the original thought that s/he wanted to express. I believe this defeats the entire purpose of the exercise. No matter what you think about the issue, always allow the other person to finish. This can be very difficult to do, especially if their views are contrary to yours, but it is a skill worth acquiring, trust me. 🙂 More importantly, this puts the other person in a more positive/relaxed frame of mind, which itself is half the job done.
If possible, look the person in the eye while they are talking. Let them feel that you are with them because you are genuinely interested in what they are saying, and not because you are supposed to show that you are listening. Of course, there are times when this does not apply. Looking straight at a person when they are confessing their guilt can scare or embarrass them further. Also, if they are talking about something very traumatic, they might feel as if they are being placed under a microscope. Use your best judgement and you will do fine. 🙂
Though there is lots I can say about this topic, I will wrap things up here with a small but very vital point, otherwise you will cease to listen (read, actually) further. I believe that this world needs more of good listeners than good talkers. Anyone can talk well with some effort and dedication, but it takes lots to be someone whom people will trust to listen and not misunderstand them. Try and belong to the latter group – its a much more worthwhile place to be. 🙂