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If you think you’re really listening, think again

"If You Think You're Really Listening, Think Again" by Amy Eliza Wong, Life Coach in the Sacramento CA, area

10 simple listening tips to seriously improve ALL of your relationships

Nothing like the holidays to impel a conversation about communication. Our lives and the quality of our existence are determined by relationships, which are defined by communication. Whether it’s relationship to self or relationship to many, whom you may or may not enjoy the company of, lots of us will be contending with the quality of communication over the next two weeks.

So, moving into the new year and inspired by the many conversations I’ve been having over the last few weeks, I share 10 basic tips from a fabulous little read: A Little Book of Listening Skills by Jennifer Austin Leigh and Mark Brady Ph.D, that just may make all the difference for you this holiday season. 

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Pentagon Spokesman Robert McCloskey

Is anyone ever really being heard?  

Maybe. Maybe not. Try these on and transform all your relationships. (Yes, even with your in-laws.)

  1. Be INTERESTEDnot interesting. It all starts with this one idea. Simple, right? This new focus alone will result in a MASSIVE shift.
  2. Stop talking so much. We all want to be heard – be the gracious one and invite others to speak, draw them out, ask questions. If you notice yourself dominating the conversation, simply acknowledge it and invite others to speak: “I’ve been talking a lot. I’ll stop now and listen.” Nothing like an honest statement like that to make others feel acknowledged. Just be quiet and reframe from talking – it’s amazing how just this can help build rapport with someone.
  3. Be genuinely curious. Curiosity makes us sincerely interested in the person we are listening to. Take on the eyes and ears of a child and perceive what they’re saying as if you’ve never encountered it before – listen as if it were the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard. You just might learn something.
  4. Stop Interrupting. It’s hard to do, especially in the heat of an intense and exciting conversation. Many times someone will say something that will trigger, stimulate, or excite us and we have an overwhelming urge to butt in and share our enthusiasm or example of how we completely relate. BUT when we interrupt, overtake someone’s story, or finish someone’s sentences, what we’re saying is, “What I have to say is so important that I cannot let you finish. It is MORE important than what you have to say.” You think you’re relating, you think you’re sharing enthusiasm but the truth is, you’re not – you’re overtaking their story. Fight the urge, don’t do it.
  5. Be slow to criticize, argue, or disagree. Defending our point of view and attempting to get our point across keeps us from hearing what the other is trying to say. An interested person listens to others’ beliefs, points of view, and versions of the truth even if it’s hard to hear. Being slow to disagree goes a long way to allow truth, understanding, and compassion to organically unfold. No doubt it takes practice to be discerning instead of judgmental. But in service to being authentic to one’s self and others, it pays to allow room for thoughts and feelings to emerge from another before we jump at the chance to “be right” or “change another’s mind.” Observe your conversations other the next few days and see how much argument and criticism passes for conversation.
  6. Relinquish the need to be in control. Have you been in one of those conversations where you’re talking at the same time, while each of you gets louder and louder? That’s actually not a conversation, that’s a power struggle. Believe it or not, the people who are truly listening wield the most power by virtue of the fact that they can sit back and choose what to respond to or ignore. To be authentic and present in this type of interaction, true listening can turn the heat down. Not to mention, by allowing another to fully express themselves without the fear of being overtaken leaves them more energy and willingness to hear what you have to say when they are through.
  7. Avoid “should-ing” on people. I am a stickler on the use of should and all it’s variants, for SO many reasons. (See my other article: “Change One Word And Change Your Life“.) It’s easy to get caught up in the: “You know what you should do…, “ “You know what you ought to do…,” “What you need to do is…,” while in conversation. We’re trying to be helpful, we’re trying to show the other person that we’re listening and we genuinely care. We might of been there before and want to help this person out of the predicament. But DON’T. Should-ing on someone essentially says, “You don’t know how to handle this. Let me tell you how to do it cause you’re not capable of figuring it out yourself.” There is no quicker way of shutting someone down than imposing your thoughts of how things should be on them. The truth is, we’ll never know what it’s REALLY like for them. To remedy this, turn your response around and ask strategic questions to help the other come to their own, more relevant solutions, and more importantly build rapport and trust. It’s not your responsibility to solve another’s problems. But you can help someone come to their own conclusions in a very empowering way.
  8. So start asking strategic questions, but don’t ask “WHY.” Counterintuitive, I know. “Why?” is a great open ended question – it’s a common way to engage someone by asking about their reasoning for something. But there is a more effective way to open someone up to discuss causal events. “What led you do to this…?” “What were the factors that resulted in…?” “What was happening that led to your decision about this?” Turn the “why” into a “what” because it drops the need to defend. Think about it – someone asks you “Why?” about something you’re discussing and don’t you feel a twinge of defensiveness? “Why” can be effective, but not always. Keep someone open and thinking creatively by not unintentionally putting them on the defense.
  9. Break the “I” habit. This is another way of honoring that we keep quiet more often. It’s true that much of our daily talk is about ourselves. We learn this when we first start to talk and as we get older, there isn’t a very compelling reason to change. But the truth is that the use of “I” can stifle true dialogue. Get yourself out of the way and ask more questions about the other. Notice how many times you say “I” next time you’re talking with someone. It will be shocking.
  10. Drop the agenda and be patient. If we have thoughts about what we think is going to be said and where the conversation is going then we filter our listening. Replace the filter with curiosity and you’ll undoubtedly hear things you might not hear otherwise. I know I sometimes feel the urge for someone to “get to the point” but doing so is only going to shut them down mentally and emotionally. That’s the last thing I want someone to feel when I’m with them. Just be patient and hear them out. It’s the greatest gift you can give them.

We all just want to connect, love, and be loved – we’re hardwired for it. Make that your reality by attending to these tips to genuinely acknowledge, and be acknowledged by, others. But not because you’re trying to win someone over, or even just win, but because you’re giving the gift of real listening and presence to another.

To dive more into this topic of listening check out the book that was the source for this blog: A Little Book of Listening Skills, by Jennifer Austin Leigh and Mark Brady Ph.D. An intriguing and compelling little read that I highly recommend. 

Wishing you a fabulous and purposeful holiday season. See you all in the new year! xo

Amy Eliza Wong is a life coach, writer, and speaker in the Sacramento, CA area committed to helping people figure out what makes them tick so they can finally live with joy and real purpose. Learn more about working with her.