Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to speak with several groups about listening. I have found that there is always one common theme. We all think we listen, but there are many times that we don’t feel like anyone is listening to us. Here is my question, if we are all listening, then why don’t people think we are listening to them? We may be “listening” but not actually hearing what the person is saying. Why do we do this?
1. We listen only to form a response.
Imagine you come home from work one day and you want to tell your significant other about a problem you had at work. You really want them to hear how upset you are and just keep your emotion in the moment. However, they immediately say, “Well, you should have done…” How does that make you feel? For many, this response can make them feel that they have done something wrong for feeling the way they do, and that the other person does not value, or understand his or her experience.
The solution, listen to understand. When someone is telling you something, especially if it is emotional, or something that they are struggling with, don’t listen to form a response. Take this as an opportunity to use reflective listening skills. Paraphrase what the individual said, and make sure that was what they intended to say. You want to make sure that you are truly understanding what the problem is. Sometimes you have to reflect back several times until you understand the heart of the matter. Once you understand, then you are truly listening, and you open up a space for constructive dialogue.
2. We are bombarded by noise.
Many of us are bombarded by noise throughout the day. It starts with the sounds of your house, the television or radio in the morning, and continues through our drive to work and our interactions throughout the day. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t listen to the radio or to the news, but it is important to be aware of the noise around us.
Create time to be aware of the noise around you. Sit in a room and identify the different sources of noise around you; such as, the air conditioner running, the hum of a computer, or the radio next door. By consciously identifying the different sources of noise, you are exercising your brain to be intentionally aware of the noise around you, which can help you focus on conversations when people need you to listen.
3. We are multi-taskers who sacrifice one task for another
How many of you are multi-taskers? I know I am. I can be making dinner, answering text messages or emails, watching tv, and talking to my husband all at the same time. But, when I am doing so many different things at once, am I truly focusing on my conversation? The answer is no. I may think I am, but I am not devoting my full attention to the conversation. What if you are working on a big project, and someone comes into your office and wants to talk? Do you say, sure, and continue to look at your computer screen? All of us have done this at one point or another.
We all are very busy people. We have demands on our time that come from home and work. What do you do to make sure that you complete all of your tasks, but also listen respectfully and intentionally to the people around us? Let’s go back to the person walking into your office while you are completing a big project. You have two options. You can stop working on the project and listen to what the person says, or you can ask the person to come back at a later time so you can devote your full attention to them. Most people understand if you ask them to come back or wait a moment because you are busy, as long as you are clear and concise about when you will be available. It isn’t a good idea to just say, I’m busy, can we talk later. Set a specific time. Whether you say you will be done with your project in x minutes and will be available, or if it needs to be scheduled for later in the week. Just be respectful, and outline that you want to be available to listen to them without distraction.
Listening is not a skill we are taught. We are taught valuable communication skills; such as, how to write, how to talk, and how to read, but not how to listen. Being an engaged listener takes practice, but we can all do it. Take the time to listen to understand today. See how the world responds.