Who wants to listen about listening? We’ve got ears. We listen all the time.
Listening to understand and paying attention, yeah, I get it, is a crucial part of communication and a top skill. But listening is hard, real hard.
Why Is Active Listening Difficult?
I want to actively listen, but the thing is, my mind starts wandering. I have my own thoughts, distractions, assumptions, biases, judgments, pre-notions, and they won’t always sync with yours. Well, I can keep my mouth shut and be silent, but that won’t guarantee you that I’m listening.
In fact, I let my mind jog around for as long as you talk. Not my fault, it’s the brain's fault. It thinks four times faster than you can speak. So, your words are filling in only 25% of my mental capacity. The rest of the space will be invaded by my own thoughts, problems, preoccupations, etc.
This is one of the issues; another is: I may not like the pitch of your voice, choice of words, your views, or just you.
The other thing is, I have my own script in my head. I already know certain things. I have my own preconceived ideas in place. You can call it, biases, prejudice, presuppositions, or closemindedness, whatever.
Maybe what you say has ambiguities. You are rambling your thoughts. Your words are incoherent, not making sense to me. Sometimes you speak so slowly that I hardly hear you; sometimes you go so fast that I can’t even keep a track of what you said before.
Eventually what you say fails to resonate with mine. So, I chose to rebuff what you have to say.
If none of this exists, I still struggle to listen.
Active Listening Requires Focus:
See, active listening requires complete focus. Focus on what you said and on what you didn’t say. It means I have to be fully involved in the conversation to understand what you said in the context and what your desires are. Moving focus away from my own self to you, is not easy, for me, or anyone.
What about me in the whole scenario? You know how great it feels to talk about self. Pouring your view down on others.
I’m right. I want to feel good. I know all, I'm the one.
The Problem with Not Listening:
After a long, bad day at work, I returned home fuming. When you have a bad day, it takes a toll, at that time you want someone to listen to you out. I desperately needed someone to listen to me. With this expectation, I began telling my partner what had happened. As my partner stared at the screen, he half-heartedly listened, and then in the middle, he cut me off so he could tell me all the things I did wrong.
Listening to his response, my anger channeled towards him. I threw a scorching look and hands in the air, yelled in exasperation, "You don't care how I feel" and stomped off, feeling worse than before, unheard, and unwanted.
The problem with not listening is that it makes you feel unheard, frustrated, angry, and alone. It feels incredibly frustrating when you express yourself, share your feelings, and tell the person what bothers you, only to have them brush it off. Who wants to have their feelings and words dismissed?
Sometimes all you need is someone to hear you and sometimes that is all you need. To tell you that you matter, your problems, feelings, words matter.
While not listening, brings in the barrier and restrict the access to another person inner world.
Why You Should Listen:
You can resolve a lot of problems with active listening. You can understand what your partner, boss, colleague, family, friends and society are up to. What their thoughts, feelings, problems, issues, ideas are. What they need, what challenges they are facing, and what role you can play in it. You can improve relationships, build deep connections just by actively listening, and understanding perspective. If you don’t listen, you don’t know what’s going on.
The Common Mistakes in Listening:
Not paying enough attention to what the other person is saying.
I know, I do this. Sometimes I re-watch the whole web series in my head while listening to someone's failed date story. Sometimes, I’m mentally busy composing my reply, what I have to say. In any case.
If you are highly engrossed in your story telling you might not notice; otherwise, it is frustrating to talk to people who have no interest in listening to what you have to say.
Interrupting in the middle:
I know interrupting while someone is disrespectful. Still, holding on until you finish your sentence or thought makes me twitchy. It is tough to hold my tongue tight when I’m bubbling with ideas and enthusiasm, while you are rambling. I want to jump in the middle.
Interruption derails your train of thought. Steamrolling over you with my personal point of view, instead of listening, makes you withdraw from me.
I know I should show some patience when you want me to hear you, especially when you are angry, upset, or want to work through a problem. Instead of getting frustrated, cutting you off in the middle. I could wait for you to process and finish what you have to say.
Giving Unsolicited Advice:
You obviously should have done this instead.
My apologies that my unsolicited advice left you in despair. I assumed you were telling me so I could give you some advice or fix your problem. Well, I get it.
I should understand that superficially your problem might look similar to mine, but your personality, past experiences, upbringing, and previous life could bring out different emotions which I may not comprehend. Making my assumption questionable.
So how to be a good listener.
How to be a Good Listener:
Stop being Intrusive:
Avoid filling in the pause. Give them space to talk.
Avoid being nosy, let them finish until they run out of steam:
Avoid speculating about their personal motivations or why they behave in a particular manner.
Re-phrase and check back, if you understood clearly:
Absorb the message, reflect and check back to know you understood clearly.
Check your assumptions:
Do not project your own feelings onto someone else’s. Let them tell you what a situation means for them personally. Under no circumstances should you tell them how to feel.
Yes, we are distracted, preoccupied, and forgetful. And in spite of knowing that listening is critical, we struggle to pay attention and listen to understand. Instead, we hear to respond, making our communication poor and affecting varied areas of our lives. If you want to make all spheres of your life better, start listening. World will turn into a better place if we start listening - listen to understand, not just to respond.
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