By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)
If you’ve ever been in any sort of relationship, you’ve probably heard the accusation “You’re not listening to me.”
Recently, August McLaughlin, one of my favorite bloggers, nominated me for the Reader Appreciation Award in her post on Thoughtful Blog Reading: Habits and Perks. This award honors faithful readers for the friendship and encouragement they give bloggers.
Before I pass along this award to some of the readers who’ve uplifted me with their thoughtful comments, I wanted to first give something to you. Because I think being a thoughtful blog reader is a lot like being a good listener…
Three Tips for Better Listening
#1 – Be In the Moment
Admit it. You’ve talked on the phone while answering email. Or you’re having a conversation with your spouse or friend while playing on your phone.
Human beings can’t multi-task, so if we’re doing two things at once, our brain is switching back and forth between them as quickly as possible. In other words, we’re bound to miss something while it switches. Additionally, when we’re on one thing, our brain has to “hold our place” in the other thing so that we have less capacity to devote to the thing we’re supposed to be focusing on.
To truly listen to what the other person is saying we need to focus 100% on them. Put away our phones. Close our laptops. Turn off the TV.
The second part to being in the moment is to pay attention to what the other person is saying rather than daydreaming, letting your mind wander to other topics, or forming your response.
Both of these show respect for the person you’re talking to and let them know you value what they’re saying.
#2 – Let the Person Finish
I’m sorry to say that this is not an area where my mom or I excel. We tend to cut people off. We don’t mean to be rude. We just get so involved in what the other person is saying that we want to take part.
But we shouldn’t. We should allow them to finish speaking before we jump in.
Sometimes people just want to be heard. Sometimes people don’t know what they’re feeling until they talk it through. By cutting them off before they’ve clearly finished, we don’t allow them to fulfill their need.
Worse, when we don’t let them finish, we’re assuming we know what they’re trying to say and where the conversation is going. I’ve watched my mom do this multiple times in a conversation. She’ll jump in with a guess about where the person is going, be wrong, and guess again before the person even has a chance to say more than “no.”
I do this as well with my husband, and it makes him feel like I don’t think he’s smart enough to have already thought of what I jumped in to say. When he’s telling me something, he wants to actually have the chance to tell it. He doesn’t want me to finish for him.
Jumping in can also come off as rushed, as if we have something more important to be doing and we want to wrap the conversation up as quickly as possible.
#3 – Employ RASA
I learned this concept from Julian Treasure’s TEDTalk on sound.
Rasa is the Sanskrit word for “juice” or “essence,” and the acronym stands for receive, appreciate, summarize, ask.
Tips #1 and #2 cover how we can best receive—pay attention.
Appreciating what the other person said doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with them. Julian Treasure describes it as making little noises like “uh huh” and “mmm” or nodding our heads. The best way I can think of to look at it big-picture is that we want to let the other person know that we respect their opinion and their right to voice it (even if we don’t share that opinion).
The point of summarizing is to ensure you know what the other person is actually saying by putting what they’ve just said into your own words and repeating it back to them. “So what you’re saying is…” The other person can then respond with yes, no, or not quite.
In a marriage especially, we too often assume we know what the other person is saying. We take offense where none was intended. We jump to the conclusion that they agree entirely with us when they’re trying to tell us they don’t. A lot of fights and miscommunications could be avoided by simply summarizing more often.
Finally, we need to ask questions. The biggest problem with listening, if you haven’t guessed it already, is the human tendency to fill in the blanks on their own rather than trying to fill them in the way the other person intended. We should always ask questions if there’s something we don’t understand.
We should also ask questions to help take the conversation deeper. Questions are a great way to let the other person know you’re invested in the conversation. It helps them open up and feel safer in sharing with you.
Passing the Award Along
I wish I could pass this award along to so many of you for being faithful commenters and making blogging fun for me, but I can only pick a few, so I’ve chosen to nominate the following people.
What other tips do you have for being a better listener?
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