Are You Listening?

19 June, 2012

For the people that spend time with you - work with you, live with you, socialise with you - how often do you think they have the experience of actually being listened to, heard and understood?

I have had two situations in the last week of being on the receiving end (or I should say, the non-receiving end) of not being listened to. What can I say about those two experiences? They sucked. Each time, I was asked a direct question but the person didn't wait around for the answer too long before getting distracted with something else, leaving the question unanswered. Or, they "listened" - and it later became apparent they hadn't really heard what I had said after all.

Communication as a skill, will always have a high value placed on it. In the workplace these skills are highly regarded and sought after (have you ever read a job description that didn't specify communication skills?). We know also that on a personal level, in those romantic relationships that actually work, the partners have found ways of communicating with each other that allows honesty and rapport - the ability to sort out the difficult stuff as well as plan the fun stuff.

In my view 50% of what makes communication an actual skill and not just a buzz word, is the ability to receive (hear), as well as to give (talk). This gets referred to less often, and is equally important in making you an effective communicator.

You don't need to become a counsellor - just realise the importance of this in your interactions: please don't be one of those people that only "listens" while you are waiting for your turn to talk. The person on the receiving end knows this, and they may come away from the interaction wondering what it was actually all about.

If you recognise this to be a weakness in yourself, some skill building to try:

  • Imagine the experience the other person is having whilst they are in your company: what might it be like for them? Positive? Negative? Enjoyable? Frustrating?
  • Change the question in the back of your head from "when can I talk again?" to "how much can I learn about this person / situation?" - become interested, it will pay off.
  • Practice attending. Use eye contact, non-verbal encouragers (nodding), minimal-encouragers (uh-huh, mmmmm, yep, go on...) and sharpen your ears to hear not just the words, but the way in which they are being said. You might surprise yourself by how much you learn about this person.

Feel glad that what you are doing is enabling something that most people rarely have the experience of in their average day - being listened to, actually heard and understood. You will improve your interactions and relationships, and feel better about yourself.

Would love to hear from you - leave a comment and let's have a chat.


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