The Lost Art of Listening Part 3: Getting Through to Each Other

We’ve mentioned some of the real reasons people don’t listen, sometimes their mind is preoccupied, but oftentimes it’s to avoid confronting upsetting emotions. Real listening requires attention, appreciation, and affirmation, but better listening doesn’t start with a set of techniques, it starts with a sincere effort to make them your priority to thoroughly listen to them. Begin by tuning into the other person (without barriers) and focus on what they have to say. You can start by practicing your listening skills with only one purpose, the intent to of trying to understand what the speaker is trying to express.

Understanding each other (much like effective communication) is a give and take process, most people aren’t interested in your convictions until they believe that you have acknowledged theirs. However, there are also people who fake interest in your opinions, they use hit-and-run questions to turn the focus onto them and become restless when you’re speaking. These people want to appear as a good listener without actually putting in the effort to truly be one. They try to manipulate a certain reaction out of you with interruptions, flattering comments, or provocations.

On the other hand, listener reactions are a natural and necessary part of the communication process. Silence and indifference can make a conversation awkward or upsetting. Try nodding your head or using other gestures of understanding or affirmation to let the person know that you are listening. Without the expression of empathy, people feel more inclined to mask their true feelings or bottle up potentially dangerous truths. When initiating a discussion, it’s important to suppress your own agenda to help the other person gain confidence and communicate more honestly. If you start to feel defensive or impatient while the other person is talking, control the impulse to interrupt and return your focus back to actively listening. By creating a climate of understanding, you can help the person feel acknowledged.

Remember that empathy is the essence of good listening, and listening is a quiet and active process. When they’re finished, rephrase what they’ve said as an invitation for the other person to elaborate on what they’ve said, not to summarize it. One way to receive the listening you need is to tell them what you’d like them to do, “I have an important decision to make, and I need your advice,” or “I’m really upset and need to vent to someone. Just listen, okay?” The number one reason people don’t listen is because it triggers an intense emotional reaction. As a listener it can be hard to keep your emotional reactions in check. Assumptions interfere with communication and inevitably lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings. We’re all insecure to some degree, but empathy helps ease the defensive reactions. Effective communication requires the mutual understanding and efforts of both parties, simply taking turns listening and talking isn’t enough.

Empathy is receptive and welcoming, it lets us to express our feelings. Something that is often overlooked is that feelings are real to the person feeling them, if their feelings are different from others, doesn’t make it any less relevant. When misunderstandings are expressed as angry feelings, it’s important to hear them out, shutting your ears or fighting back won’t solve anything. One of the best ways to diffuse a potential emotional outburst is to allow the person to express those feelings to someone empathetic who will accept and acknowledge their experience instead of deny it. This can help strengthen your relationship with others by establishing yourself as a calming influence during emotional times.

The Lost Art of Listening: Part 4 – Listening in Context

The Lost Art of Listening: Part 2 – The Real Reasons People Don’t Listen