Listening Will Change Your Life

Listening Will Change Your Life

“Listening Will Change Your Life.” I say to people in my classes and I’m not surprised by either their smirks when they hear me say it, or by their astonishment when they later experience it.

I know this is a big promise, and let me be clear that by “listening” I don’t mean waiting without rolling your eyes for your turn to speak. Here’s what I mean by “listening”:

1. Being willing to enter the world of the speaker in order to receive information from her perspective;

2. Providing a neutral canvas on which the speaker can feel free to present her picture without having to monitor it for your approval;

3. Helping and encouraging the speaker to finish what she has to say by indicating interest and willingness to continue listening;

4. Not thinking about yourself during this delivery;

5. Clarifying when the speaker is finished without suggesting that you think it’s about time.

Picture yourself doing this and you’ll see that there isn’t much that you have to do; you just have to mentally give yourself over to receiving information.

It’s actually very freeing:

– no evaluating what you hear;

– no comparing to something else;

– no marshaling of really good arguments;

– no defending.

If you feel that you need something to do, let your job be to comply with the 5 Listening elements stated above.

First, give over to the concept that listening is not about you, and that listening will not negate any of your opinions. There will be a chance for you to express yourself later- that would be when you are the Speaker; right now you are the Listener.

Being neutral while someone else is talking allows them to keep talking, and allows the whole story to come out. If your face indicates resistance, the speaker will probably adjust for that. She may stop telling that part of the story; defend it; become aggressive; leave out parts that she thinks are causing conflict. The result will be that you won’t get the whole story. It isn’t easy to remain neutral, but your inner monologue can help you. Instead of, “This is stupid”, or even “Yippee!”, try “This is what’s true for her”.

Help the speaker. Being neutral doesn’t mean being silent and in fact, silence can be intimidating. Think about what you do when someone is telling you a story you want to hear: you nod your head, you make those little keep-going noises- uh-huh, yeah, mmm-hmmm. Good listeners frequently reflect back to the speaker what they’re hearing. When you do this it shows the speaker that you are hearing what she is saying. And if you’re wrong, she can correct you. Beware of prefacing these reflections with something like “Are you trying to say that….”, since the speaker probably believes she DID say that. And again- providing this help doesn’t mean that you believe or accept any of the content. It means that you believe and accept the speaker’s right to say it.

It is sooooo hard not to think about ourselves. And frequently thinking = talking. Some well-intentioned listeners like to jump into the speaker’s arena with a little story about themselves that they think has relevance to the topic. Remember I said that your turn to talk comes later? Very few speakers want their story interrupted to hear about your experience. Maybe they’d like to hear it after they finish speaking- again, maybe- but not now.

Eventually the speaker stops talking. Good listeners let the speaker indicate when the end is upon us, but if you feel things winding down, you might offer a summary of sorts, “Well, that was really something”, or “You feel strongly about that”, “You’ve given this a lot of thought”. And finally, just ask.

So now what? One barrier to good listening is the fear that when the speaker stops speaking we will look idiotic if we haven’t spent all that valuable time preparing our response. I don’t think there’s a rule that says when the speaker stops speaking we have to start. Perfectly okay to say thanks, let me think about that.

And what is life changing about this listening stuff? Here are three good things:

– You can get to know other people more fully;

– You can avoid conflicts and have more conversations than arguments;

– You can better control your interactions.

And- if you show other people what a good listener you are, maybe they will listen to you!