“Are you even listening?!”
How many times have you heard this? If you’re anything like me, my guess is quite a lot. Most often, such a response isn’t elicited due to me deliberately being disrespectful or simply not caring. It really comes down to this truth: listening is hard.
Before you start rolling your eyes or believing you’re above such a claim, let’s have a little talk about listening. What does it mean to actually listen? How do you know you are listening? Why is listening so important in the first place?
I know it isn’t news to remember relationships are an intricate part of our lives. Arguably, relationships are what make life so beautiful and so difficult at the same time. Hence, in order to cultivate strong relationships – in any area of life – we need to practice effective listening. It is just a fact. From partner to partner relationships, parent to child, employer to employee etc., if you want to improve a relationship or at least maintain the quality of a relationship, you need to be listening.
If you’re still not convinced listening is important due to their impact on relationships, let’s talk about the necessary act of listening to ourselves. No one talks about this! But, we need to. When you become an active, engaged listener to your own thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, you will feel connected to yourself on a whole new level. You will feel empowered like maybe you never have before.
Now that we understand how necessary listening is to a full, integrated life – let’s now break down how to become a stronger listener. And showcase even more specific benefits of being one.
Listen to Others
When you and I were young children, our parents and teachers would ask us to listen to what they were saying.
What did this mean to you as a child?
For me, it looked like being quiet while someone else was talking, looking at the person who was talking, making eye contact, and stopping what you were doing to give your fullest attention.
But, is this what it means to truly listen to someone? I think it’s a good first step. But, also know there is so much more.
Be Fully Present
To actively listen to someone is to suspend your thoughts and everything around you in order to fully tune into the speaker’s world.
When it comes to listening to another, this is not the time to think about yourself or what you are doing over the weekend. When you are listening to someone, this is their time. I know. This can be difficult. Especially if you have other things on your mind! But, being truly present with the speaker is incredibly powerful.
Seek to Understand
When you are listening, you need to set aside your agenda. A strong listener doesn’t listen to try to fix anything or make changes. You are simply there to try to understand what is going on for the speaker. If you notice you’re tempted to slip into “fix-it” mode, you can gently bring yourself back to what the speaker is saying.
When you start to think about ways you can help, you often miss new information! What the speaker is sharing could be important to finding out what the speaker truly needs. This doesn’t mean that you can’t offer advice or ways to help. It might just too soon to do so.
Ask yourself: “What are they trying to say?”Try to imagine what the speaker is trying to say from their perspective. Step into their shoes. Everyone sees the world differently. What the speaker is saying is based on their experience. A good thought to have is: “Knowing what I know about this person, what do I think they are trying to say here?”
Being open to what the speaker is sharing looks like providing a space where the speaker feels comfortable sharing with you. You can do this by removing other distractions such as turning off the T.V. and putting down your phone.
You can show that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying through body language. You can shift your body in their direction, make eye contact and ask questions when they are finished to further clarify what you heard. Asking questions and summarizing what you heard is a great way to show that you were listening, communicate genuine interest and care.
Benefits of Listening to Others
- Communicates respect
- Improves trust and the quality of a relationship
- Increases the ability to genuinely connect
- Improves leadership skills
- Presents the opportunity to learn something new, expand perspectives, challenge previously held beliefs
- Develops patience and tolerance skills
- Increases intimacy within intimate partnerships and decreases conflict
- Less likely to make mistakes and problem-solve more effectively
Quick Tips for Listening to Others
- Be present
- Be open-minded by avoiding judgment and criticism
- Monitor your reactions to what the speaker is saying by breathing and staying calm
- Listen to what is between their words. What did the speaker not say but was communicated? Did their tone of voice, volume, body language indicate something? Did you hear emotions in what they were talking about?
- Ask open-ended questions. For example, “How has this impacted your daily life?” or “What do you want to happen next?”
- Paraphrase what the speaker has shared by putting what the speaker shared into your own words in order to communicate understanding.
- Use validation by using phrases such as: “That makes sense to me that you would feel…” and “You’re making complete sense to me.”
Listening to Yourself
When I think about listening to myself in the moment I think of the practice of mindfulness. Being mindful is to be aware of oneself in the present moment without judgment.
Mindful questions to ask yourself include:
- What is happening in my body right now?
- Do I notice anything in particular?
- What are my thoughts?
- What emotions am I experiencing?
- Do I notice movement in my thoughts?
Benefits of Listening to Yourself
- Improved ability to manage stress and anxiety
- Increased concentration and focus
- Deeper self-awareness (emotions, thoughts, and body)
- Increased working memory
- Improved self-acceptance and empathy
- Improved ability to regulate emotions
- Reduced rumination
Quick Tips for Listening to Yourself
- Take a break to listen to what is truly going on for you in any given moment
- Be mindful of surroundings
- Notice fluctuations in thoughts, emotions, and behaviours
- Observe your feelings without judgment
- Take an investigative approach while asking yourself mindful questions
- Avoid multi-tasking and give your full attention to what you’re doing at the moment
There you have it! Though it is worth noting that these steps are easier said than done. We are all in practice. Being a strong listener isn’t something we arrive at, it is someone we constantly strive to become. Do you want in-depth help in becoming a stronger listener? Book your appointment today and we will work on your skills together!
Written by Tori Mudie, MA, CCC, RP