How to really listen in three steps

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who just isn’t listening to you? Maybe their attention keeps flitting to other things, or they keep referencing something that happened to them when you’re trying to communicate something that was important to you.

We live in a bit of a self-obsessed culture. We spend a lot of time cultivating online personalities that don’t require a great deal of real interpersonal skills – we can express sympathy in a throwaway comment or solicit advice when we need it. But are we forgetting how to communicate face to face? Are we forgetting how to really listen? If you’re worried that you’re not really listening to people, here’s how to be a better listener in three easy steps!

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Are you listening or clock watching? 

Don’t make it all about you

I’m the most guilty of this one (see what I did there?) when someone is telling me a problem, I tend to relate it to my own experience. This isn’t because I have bad intentions, it’s because I genuinely am trying to make the person feel like I understand what they’re saying.

However, what’s getting lost is that every person is unique. What I’m really saying (without meaning to) is that I’m not really listening to what YOUR experience is, I’m thinking about my own, which might not apply at all.

Even if you have an anecdote that relates totally to what you think the person is saying, hear them out first, you might find their feelings about similar circumstances are totally different to yours.

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Understand that your solution might not be everyone’s cup of tea

Consider your answers

I have a lot of friends that tend to interrupt me before I’m done explaining something to offer a solution that isn’t relevant. They mean well, they think they know where I’m going with what I’m saying and they want to help, but actually if they waited just a moment to really listen to the end of what I’m saying, they’d understand that their solution wouldn’t work at all.

If you find yourself formulating an answer in your head before your loved ones are done talking, then I’m afraid you’re probably not really listening to them. I know that you probably want to make sure you’re ready with something helpful to say, but you’re not obliged to fix their problems, nor to do so in a sentence.

Instead, try saying “I’ve heard what you’re saying and I’m just thinking about how best to answer you.”

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Contain yourself and wait before you answer

Listen to what’s not being said

Sometimes people get angry about seemingly inconsequential things, or they are desperately trying to communicate something without actually saying it. I’m not asking you to be a mind reader, but listening to the tone and sentiment behind what someone’s saying is just as important as listening to their words.

If they’re telling you about someone who’s bombarding them with emails, for example, then what they’re really trying to say could be that they’re feeling overwhelmed. Or if they’re having a rant about smug couples everywhere, they could just be trying to tell you that they’re lonely. Hearing the things people want you to hear but don’t feel brave enough to say out loud is a skill in itself.

It can be really hard to break out of habits formed over a lifetime, particularly when it comes to how we relate to those immediately around us, but next time you’re having a conversation, think about the points above. Are you letting people finish their sentences? Are you so eager to help that you’re mentally formulating your answer while they’re talking? Are you making their problems all about you? Don’t beat yourself up, but start to notice when you’re doing these things and slowly make the changes you need to become a better listener!

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