If I asked you, “what is the opposite of talking?” What would you say?
Most people will say, “listening.”
At first glance, that appears true. In fact, it is true that listening is the opposite of talking.
But here’s my next question.
When you aren’t talking, are you listening?
Most people say that when they aren’t talking, they’re listening. Most people are liars.
The reality is that when you’re not talking, you’re very likely not listening. What you’re likely doing is waiting. Waiting for the other person to stop talking so that you can start talking again. Even if you’re hearing what they are saying, you aren’t really listening because you’re waiting for them to say something that allows you to bring the conversation back to you.
Did you get defensive when I used the pronoun “you”? It’s okay if you did, I was accusing you.
The simple truth is that we all do this, every single one of us. We listen to respond. We don’t listen to understand.
According to Psychology Today, people who listen to understand have greater satisfaction in their interpersonal relationships than those who listen to respond.
Psychology Carl Rogers says that “deep listening” is at the heart of every healthy relationship and is the most effective way to bring about growth and change.
So what can we do?
The good news is that it’s possible to become better listeners. Here are a few ways you can work to become a better listener.
- Put yourself inside the mind of the speaker.
- Listen for meaning.
- Pay attention to body language.
- Cultivate empathy.
- Avoid making judgments.
- Look into others’ eyes when they’re speaking.
- Pay attention to the feelings associated with the words.
- Notice the speaker’s tone and inflection.
- Repeat in your own words what someone has told you (empathetic reflection).
- Acknowledge that you’re listening by nodding or saying “Uh-huh.”
- Occasionally summarize others’ comments when given the chance.
These may seem obvious, but how often do we actually practice these things in our interactions with other people? These tips can be practiced in any scenario – with the server at a restaurant, with the gas station attendant, with your banker, mother, spouse, business partner, or any other human person you interact with.
The only way to become better at something is to do it over and over again. We have plenty of opportunities to practice every single day.
Next time someone asks you if you’re listening, tell them the truth. “Yes, I’m listening.”