Are You Really Listening?

listen loveToday is Monday, October 7, 2013.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”  –David Augsburger

Listening is truly a form of giving love.  As well, lot of misunderstandings could easily be cleared up if people would listen more carefully.  Even if your hearing is perfect, you may not be the best listener in the world.  Here are some tips to become a better listener.

When someone starts talking to you, face the person directly and stop what you’re doing, if at all possible.  If it’s not possible for you to stop, ask the speaker to wait until you’re done, then give him or her your undivided attention. You may need to ask them to wait a specific amount of time, but be considerate, and be available to talk when you said you would be.  This is especially important if it’s your own kids who want to talk.  Turn off the TV, or put down your phone, your book or your magazine.  If you’re at work, have someone else answer the phone, and put down whatever you were working on.

If you’re seated, sitting up straight or leaning forward slightly shows your listener that you are paying attention.   Maintain eye contact with the speaker as much as you can, within your comfort zone.

Minimize internal distractions.  When extraneous thoughts intrude, gently let them go, the same as you would if you were meditating.  Continue to refocus on the speaker.  If you think you might have missed something important, ask them to repeat what they just said.

To show that you are listening, you can murmur “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm”, “Really?” and the like.  Use facial expressions to respond to the listener: raise your eyebrows, nod, or smile.  Ask questions to clarify or to prompt the speaker to go on.  Other than this, remain silent while the speaker is talking.

Remain focused on what the speaker is saying and wait until he or she is finished before responding at length.  Try not to think of what you are going to say next.   Avoid making assumptions about what the speaker is thinking or why they are telling you something.  You can ask for clarification later, if you need it.

Keep an open mind regarding what the speaker is talking about, and, especially if you feel that you disagree, allow the speaker to finish speaking first. Try to be as non-judgmental as possible.  Realize that many people – especially children and teens – are not that good at expressing themselves, and very few people are good at asking for information.  You may have to ask for clarification regarding what the person actually wants to know before launching into an answer.

If the speaker is describing a difficult situation, just listen.  If they want your advice, they can ask for it.  Don’t assume when someone is describing a problem that he or she is asking for help.  Some people just want to talk it out.  This is especially true of women, who often tend to talk out a problem and their emotional involvement with the problem.  If the listener is a man, he should realize that she does not necessarily want him to fix the problem.  She just wants him to listen and offer emotional support.  A hug is golden.

If the speaker is making an accusation or lodging a complaint against you, allow the speaker to finish so the speaker will feel that he or she has been heard.  Remember to stay calm, be non-judgmental, and ask for clarification rather than making assumptions.   Paraphrase what the person has said so that you are sure you understand what has been said.   Always seek to understand the speaker before you seek to be understood.

Remember, when listening to children, that it’s important to treat them with the same courtesy as adults.  Kids are often not very good at expressing themselves and may need many prompts to continue.  Paraphrase what they are saying, especially their questions.   Sit down when you talk to kids whenever possible, so you can maintain better eye contact.  Be sure to look at their face when they are talking so they know you are listening.

With elderly people, patience is often the number one attribute of a good listener.  Sometimes the elders just need to remember the good times from their younger days.  Be patient with repetitions, as they don’t always realize they have told you a story before.  As them questions about their story.  (My father often says he wishes he’d asked his dad more questions.)

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