When was the last time you stopped to listen to someone? I mean truly listen.
We all like to think that we are good listeners; but, in reality, we are all pretty shit at it.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re listening to a loved one, your kids, your spouse, your boss, the trees, the roosters, the crows or the mad old cow down the road; how well we listen is determined by one thing.
What we want to hear.
We can’t help it; our own internal bias will listen until we hear exactly what we wanted to hear. And once heard, we don’t retain another bit of information.
Additionally, if we don’t hear what we want after a period of time, we start to doubt the person we are listening too and treat it like that person is defying or ignoring us.
Fortunately, I have spent the last few years working on my listening skills. So, I’m going to share some of my little secrets (and none secrets) for how I’ve improved my listening skills.
So, listen up.
Don’t talk unless you need to.
Naturally there are certain pleasantries and interaction required so the other person knows you haven’t died of boredom from their enthralling conversation. So, be sure to engage just enough to keep the conversation ticking along.
When I’m listening, I work on formulating questions in my head as the conversation rolls along. If the detail comes to light to answer that question then I mark it off in my mind, if not, I ask. But only once the other person is done.
I also take a long deep breathe if I feel the undying need to interject. Generally, the conversation will move on pretty quickly and I won’t have interrupted.
Some people take a long time to get their point across, others are expert story tellers. Either way, you need to be patient enough to let the other person get it all out. Realise that not everybody thinks the same, and therefore, not everyone talks the same.
Once their verbal vomit has ended, you can then wade your way through and find all those useful bits of carrot.
You need to learn
The other person’s perspective is more than just understanding their issue. It’s also about understanding what motivates them and what influences their bias.
If you listen long enough, you’ll learn all these things without even having to say a word.
So, treat the conversation as your opportunity to learn all that you need to know about the topic being discussed. Assume you know nothing, because that’s what the other person is doing.
Its not what comes first.
Be it an excuse, reason or answer. What someone says first isn’t the real response. All of us will use a “sorta true” response, aimed at not dealing with the deeper issue and avoiding conflict.
Give it time and the real response will come to light. It’s almost guaranteed that if you give someone enough airtime, they’ll put their foot into it.
This is generally because the longer someone speaks the more comfortable they become. And just like the poor old dear in the nursing home, if they relax and become comfortable enough, all sorts of nasty stuff will leak out!
It’s important to let the conversation run for this to come out, if you interject and cut it short, you’ll miss this key piece of information.
People are strange
If you listen to someone long enough, you begin to realise how strange they are. We are all like it, me included.
If you listen to me long enough, you’ll realise I’m very strange and I’m ok with that, because I’m no different to 99.9% of the human population.
Embrace that strangeness. Listen to what people have to say in its entirety, allow them to expose their strangeness, you’d be surprised by how strange we all are.
When in doubt…. mute.
Whether that be in a virtual sense or a literal sense.
Sometimes the very best you can do in a conversation is not say anything.
Odd I know.
But people seek confirmation and if they are truly bonkers, then we shouldn’t provide that confirmation.
Now, you could make a sweeping statement that would border on being an insult. But, a vastly more effective way to deal with this is to say nothing.
If the person can see you, they’ll immediately begin to doubt their last words and then start to justify their bias.
Conversely, they might not say anything and stop talking, at which point, its your turn to speak, let ‘em have it!
Being an effective listener takes practice and a bucket load of patience (which also takes practice).
Listening skills can be a hard thing to develop in the beginning, because your brain isn’t wired that way yet. This shouldn’t stop you from trying these techniques and developing those skills. They will serve you well once you’ve refined them.
The more you do it the better you’ll get, and it all starts with taking the time to listen.
‘til next time….. Cheers!