Have you ever considered learning to listen properly? I hadn’t, not until my professional training started. I shudder when I think of the less-than-perfect conversations and even relationship damage that could have been avoided if I’d learned to listen more effectively in my youth.
Though ‘listening’ implies passive reception, it is actually a highly active process of responding to the speaker’s ‘whole message’. It means not only hearing the words, but also noticing visual cues like body language, the pace of breathing and eye movements.
Learning to listen properly is not a one-lesson exercise. Being able too pay attention fully to another – keeping our focus on them without jumping to conclusions or allowing our biases and judgements to occlude what we are hearing and observing – is an ongoing process of keeping our listening habits up to standard.
No time for listening
We act as if we don’t have time to listen, the modern pace of life with its attitudes to ‘getting things done’ emphasises outcomes and results. Listening is an activity which produces results, of course, but to do it properly means we must focus only on the process… the outcome sometimes has to wait.
Learning to listen properly has all-round benefits for speaker, listener, and their relationship. Because struggling to hear someone and not being heard are stressful, when you remove these barriers you also eliminate much of the stress created by miscommunication.
Learning to listen properly
If all this sounds a bit too much like hard work, it needn’t be. You already have all the abilities you need, they are part of the normal human repertoire of communication skills. If it’s true that most of us could do with improving our listening, it’s also true that all it really takes is self-awareness and practice.
If you need encouragement, remember how it felt the last time you gave another your fullest attention and simply listened. Listening unconditionally like that is a gift twice over. The listener is gifted, and they are also giving the gift of their full attention to the speaker.
You may have noticed that to do it purposefully is an exercise in mindfulness. The benefits for the listener make a long list, and genuine listening provides some respite from having to get results elsewhere.
My online course How to Listen Well