Have you ever stopped to think about how important support systems are for your well-being? Perhaps your greatest asset, one which is naturally placed highest on a list, is human interaction. I intentionally define this broadly as it is all who surround us that are important. Human interaction, whether in our deepest, longest-lasting relationships or with the person we just met on the elevator, is all important and invaluable. Everyone has value to add if we just listen. Profound, sincere listening opens doors to our understanding. Greater perception builds knowledge which then allows us to develop.
We already know what we already know. While this is a trite statement, think how valuable our understanding of this principle would be if we knew what it meant. No matter how much information you regurgitate in sharing your words and ideas with others, it all comes from what you know. Granted, you may develop a different understanding by verbalizing, but all you are doing is reorganizing stored input in your mind.
We need to listen to others to gain wisdom, knowledge, understanding, feeling, or whatever you want to call it. Listening is a skill we can improve on daily. Active listening in relationships not only increases our life experiences but also builds relationships as well. Think of those you enjoy being around. Aren’t they really listening to what you have to say?
To be the best listener, one you would want to have pay attention to you, do some of the following.
Block out anything that may disrupt you or give those you are with the feeling you are distracted. Even if those you are communicating with suggest your distractions don’t matter, they do. We have an innate ability to read our surroundings and subconsciously react to what is perceived. Little things are noticed by our observers. Know distractions detract, and compensate by over-emphasizing your complete attention to what is being said.
Have you ever been on a phone call where you were asked, “Are you there?” This reaction is asking for validation you are listening. What is to be learned is how important our clarifying that we are listening is in communication. I lived in Australia; Australians have a custom of breathing deeply every so often while listening during communication. This is evidence to those communicating that they are engaged. Our takeaway is that we must stay active without interfering. This can be done with an occasional verbal acknowledgment such as your right. That is amazing; you have got to be kidding me, or even a simple Hu ah (heard, acknowledged, and understood).
When in communication, how often are we thinking of what we are going to say next? Are we even slightly distracted by internal feelings brought to the conversation? To be effective in getting the intended message from others, we need to turn off the outside world. As we begin a conversation, turn off all other thoughts. These feelings can take away from what we need to learn. If we bring our own ideas to conversation, our biases about what is being said will influence us. We need to listen without preconceived ideas or thoughts to feel where another is coming from. Never have in mind what it is we are desirous of saying until we are asked a question. Delaying with an answer or response will not be taken wrong; it validates or intensifies listening.
Don’t interrupt or try to take the conversation where you want ideas to go. We all know how frustrating it is to get a message out when others are occupied by their own agenda. Stay engaged if there is a distraction, a phone call, or someone coming into our space. If it is important enough for the other party to butt in, they will.
Listen from the beginning by observing body language and facial movements. Don’t try to figure out what is going to be said. The slowest thinkers are thinking faster than the fastest talkers. Let your mind take in the entire communication using all your senses. Take notes if the details are to be remembered. This act is very exciting to someone speaking as it suggests a point made has value.
Understand that while observing a communicator intensely, they are watching you as well. Have a posture of interest, lean toward them, look into their eyes, and give appropriate facial expressions.
Finally, ask for clarification if you don’t understand what was said. This may require restating what you understood; this validates your interest. If the points are emotional, comment such as, “I see how you feel, or that makes sense.” If it is new information, say something such as, “That is interesting or so what you are saying…”
With learning and developing some of these ideas in communication, many will gravitate to wanting to be with you. Your knowledge will expand as your relationships grow, and others feel comfortable sharing with you. Our greatest minds, best inventions, and happiest lives come from learning from others. We can’t learn if we are not listening!