We sometimes underestimate the benefit of really listening when we find ourselves in certain conversations. (eg. Conversations about your great aunt’s friend’s cousin who has a weird infection right now. “You remember Joyce, don’t you?”)
Even in conversations with people we love, we sometimes get distracted. Hey, maybe you want to listen, but still can’t. Maybe the art of listening is one of your favorite virtues! Unfortunately, appreciating virtues does not automatically mean we will acquire them. Even a saint might have trouble listening when conversations are boring, life is stressful and time is limited. Not listening won’t help that though.
It’s like by not listening, you’re missing out on a chance to de-stress. Why? Because listening leads to connecting with people. Considering that people love being listened to, it’s pretty important for our relationships. I used to find it incredibly irritating that my friends don’t find my life as interesting as I do, but I got over myself soon enough. Understanding that people weren’t as interested in my good ideas and funny stories as they were of their own was both both devastating and exciting.
Devastating because like I said, my friends don’t find my life as interesting as I do.
But exciting because I understood that being a good listener was an easy way to begin connecting with people. (A.K.A. get people to like me, because sometimes I care about that way too much.)
Best selling author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie sums it up pretty well:
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
And if you find yourself struggling to listen sometimes, here are a few tricks that might help you:
- Listen to non-verbal communication– This can be helpful when you’re trying to get out of your own head. Take a deep breath, and then take all the focus off yourself. Rather than just listening to the words someone is saying, zero in on the messages behind their words.This takes a little more mental energy than only listening with your ears, but it also makes the conversation more interesting. What does that body language say about one’s comfort level? What’s with the fidgeting? How does that style reflect mental state- are they wearing those pants for a reason? A good reason?
- Listen to their vocal tonality- similar to watching for non verbal communication, this one is also not quite about the words being said. Paying attention to the inflections and pitch of someone’s voice can also give hints about what they’re communicating (be it conscious or unconscious) . If their voice is more animated than usual, it might mean he/she is excited. If someone ends a lot of statements as though they are questions, it might mean indicate insecurity.
- Mirror body language– Research suggests that we can tap into emotions by making the facial expressions associated with certain emotions. For example, if you hold a pen in your mouth, you make an expression resembling a smile, and it might actually cause you to feel happier. Through this same idea, by mirroring the expressions of the people we’re talking to (something we do naturally to some degree) we can tap into the emotions that someone might be feeling. And perhaps understanding how someone feels will help us understand why this someone cares so much about whatever it is we kind of don’t want to listen to them talk about.
- Keep an open mind– Although it’s easier said than done, it’s important that we try to shut off prejudices and other negative beliefs we have about someone when we are listening to them. If we go into conversations with our co-workers thinking about how unbelievably stupid they are, then we’re already setting the conversation up to be a waste of time. Why? Because we’ve decided it’s not worth listening to. Which brings us to the next point.
- If you can’t listen, leave– This can apply if you really really don’t want to be in a conversation, and it can also apply for when there’s something on your mind that is so pressing, so irritating, so horrendously maddening that you cannot bear to stop thinking about it. If you can’t stop thinking about it, then go ahead and think about it…alone. Or better yet, go talk it out with someone who will listen to you. If you’re lucky, you can even talk about it with whoever you are stuck in a conversation with. But the point is, if you’re trying to listen to someone while feeling like your mind is going to explode, then you’re probably not going to succeed.
- Don’t expect yourself to listen all the time– A curse for those of us who have to fight natural tendencies to people-please is the strong pull to listen without interrupting no matter how awful a conversation is. Know that you don’t always have to listen. When you’re talking to someone who has been rambling on and hasn’t let you say more than a few words in the past half hour, it’s okay to stop listening. Even more practical- it’s okay to excuse yourself from that conversation. It’s also okay to have days when you don’t feel like talking. And day’s when you don’t want to be a perfect, consoling friend. If you feel like you’re spending too much time listening in your conversations, then it might be time for you to make some adjustments in your life.
Let me know what you think in the comments. What has helped you become a good listener?