I have a question for you. Are you good at lending an ear? Or put another way, are you a good listener? I bet you answered in the affirmative. Most people do. In the book “The Listening Life” by Adam S.McHugh, Psychologist David Benner is quoted as saying “most of us are not good at listening even though we think we are”, and that this becomes an obstacle to growth.
If you’d asked me that question in January, I would have definitely said, “Yes, I’m a good listener”. Andy also believed that it was one of my strengths, but having been on a coaching course and now doing my practical hours, I can see I have a whole lot further to go!
Being present, truly present, is the key.
Listening for the other person rather than for myself, and not having a set agenda, are skills I’m honing. As I work with people and actively listen, and also get them to listen to one another, it isn’t uncommon to hear them say “I’m just appreciating being heard; being heard is making me feel valued, and I’m understanding my partner on a whole new level”.
It seems we all want to be heard. We crave for someone to listen.
If we can improve our listening, even by as little as 5%, we’ll see our marriages and our relationships with our children and friends vastly improve. And who doesn’t want that?
Learning to listen is the first skill that we learn as infants. When we consider that the first six years of our lives are the years where we grow the most, then this should tell us something about the value of listening. It seems the older we get, the less we listen, and we can become more pre-occupied with expressing our opinions, asserting our beliefs, and arguing our positions. As Benner says, “Speaking our minds takes priority over listening. We speak volumes but we listen in snippets.”
So how can we improve our listening?
1. Focus on what is being said, rather than how you feel about what is said.
In other words, take yourself out of the picture and listen for the other person, not for yourself. We can have a tendency to run everything we hear through our personal filter and listen for how something impacts us rather than being focused on the other person.
2. Focus on what the other person is trying to say rather than only on the words being spoken.
In the early years of our marriage, Andy would say that he was like a prosecuting attorney and would trip me up with my words. He would smile and say “Ah-ha but you said……..” I would then become reluctant to try and share my feelings because it wouldn’t go well for me. But he worked hard at developing his listening skills and drawing me out until he became one of the best listeners I’ve ever known.
3. Focus on understanding rather than whether the other person is right or wrong.
Even if what the other person shares isn’t how you saw or heard something, it is still their perspective. Dismissing someone’s perspective will never go well. Much better to say, “Tell me how you saw our argument, or how you heard my comments”. “What was going on for you at the time – I want to understand better?”
And then just affirming them with, “Yes I can understand you feeling that way – if I were you, I’d feel that too” ….which of course you would 🙂
4. Focus on listening 75% of the time, talking 25% of the time, and using that 25% in the form of questions.
Just being aware of the amount of time you speak as opposed to how much you listen can be incredibly helpful. This is particularly useful with teenagers, and will do wonders for your relationship. I’ve spoken with many young people who just want their parents to listen, to be curious about their world and to stop lecturing. I remember a time when Ben said, “Mum can you guys just hang out sometimes, not everything needs to be a teaching opportunity”. I needed to hear that.
5. We are only learning and growing when we are listening.
Remember that when we are speaking we aren’t learning. I don’t know about you, but this is helpful for me; I never want to stop learning and so it’s a good reminder to keep listening at the forefront of my interactions. And if I learn to listen well to others, then hopefully I will also listen better to God; I will hear His words more clearly, sense His guidance and make better decisions.
I like to put it this way – lend an ear and you’ll keep a heart 🙂
Here are two questions to reflect on:
· What would happen to your marriage if you listened more?
· How would your relationships change and how would you change if you approached every situation with the intention of listening first?