Listening is truly an art, a skill set worthy of everyone’s intentional effort to attain. It is a master key to great relationships and the door to wisdom. So why is it so hard to do? Why do we struggle with this so important of a skill?
Most likely it’s because it wasn’t modeled for us and no one showed us how to be a great listener. Most of us want so much to be heard, seen, and understood that we get too focused on ourselves and forget to slow down and care about what others have to say to us. The truth is that the path to get what we truly want and need is by taking the road of truly caring to listen to others. As Theodore Rosevelt so eloquently put it, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan teach us a very important lesson in their book Becoming a Person of Influence:
“ A funny thing happens when you don’t make a practice of listening to people. They find others who will. Anytime employees, spouses, colleagues, children, or friends no longer believe they are being listened to, they seek out people who will give them what they want. Sometimes the consequences can be disastrous: the end of a friendship, lack of authority at work, lessened parental influence, or the breakdown of a marriage.”
Simply put: it is crucial that we choose to learn the art of listening and apply it to all of our relationships so that we can have the best friendships, marriage, career success, and parental influence that we desire.
Hearing a person speak and listening are two very different things. Listening implicates you actually taking an interest in what the other person has to say and trying to understand them, even if you disagree with them. Listening leads to more peace and harmony in all relationships. The more we listen the less we will fight and argue and the quicker we get to understanding and resolution. Don't we all want more of that?!!
So...To develop your ability to listen…
Become aware of the key signs that let you know you are not truly listening in a conversation:
Thinking of what you’re going to say next while the other is speaking
Waiting eagerly for the person to pause so you can interject your comments and thoughts. Or even worse, interrupting so that you can say your opinions!
Desiring the other person to understand you and get your point more than you care to understand them
Seeking ways to convince the other person to agree with you
Thinking the other person is absolutely wrong and you’re right
Assuming that you know what the person means by what they say and that you already know what they’re about to say
Interpreting what someone is saying with your own lens
Shutting down and thinking about other things while the person is trying to speak with you
Okay, so what does good listening actually look like?
Staying engaged in the conversation with a genuine interest and desire to understand the other person’s perspective and way of thinking
Asking curious, open-ended questions to seek understanding
Making eye contact and attentively hearing what the other person is saying
Giving your undivided attention without multitasking
Patiently allowing the other person to express themselves in their own style without interrupting
Reflecting back to them what you just heard and understood so that they know you are listening and wanting to understand them. Here is an example: “Let me make sure I understand. You really want to ….. because of …., am I understanding that correctly?
Take these tips shared and begin to use them with your spouse, children, boss, and employees; and you will begin to see how your relationships with them get transformed!
It takes time and practice to become a better listener; but I hope that you now have a greater desire to master the art of listening and start to reap the rewards that come with it.
Dornan, J., Maxwell, J. C. (1997). Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others (p.84). United States: HarperCollins Leadership.