How Can We Become Better Listeners?
As an introvert I love to listen. I love to hear people tell their stories and describe themselves, their lives and how they see the world. The magic of hearing a knowledgable person speak about their passion. This bliss of sitting at a dinner table enveloped by lively conversation. The privilege of making tea to listen to an anxious or excited friend. Listening is often so much more enriching than self-expression: it expands, it fills up, it changes perspective.
But recently I've wondered if I'm being the best listener I could be. I've asked myself how I could better help the people I listen to feel valued and heard, and to express themselves more fully. This week, I'm spending a few beautiful days in the Pyrenees, and there is something about being in the snow-covered mountains that has inspired me to think about this more deeply. The mountains, so peaceful and strong, sit still and open up great spaces around them like the best of listeners.
- Be fully present
Stop what you're doing and turn your whole spirit towards the person who is speaking. If that's not possible, ask to delay the conversation until another time (whether that's in two minutes, an hour, or next week). Avoid multitasking unless the other thing is making tea or doing some kind of handicraft.
- Don't think about how to respond while someone is speaking
When I'm in a situation that makes me a little socially anxious, I can find myself thinking of a response while the person is talking. But this is not really listening. There is nothing wrong with taking time afterwards to formulate a response, even if that means a quiet pause in the conversation.
- Repeat back what has been said said in your own words
This checks I've understood, leads to further development, and also shows the speaker that they have been heard. It can be enlightening to hear how the nuances of their words are interpreted outside their own mind. Sometimes you're not aware of where you're placing emphasis, on what is most important to you.
- Dare to ask the probing questions
At times it can feel too personal, too intrusive, to encourage someone to delve deeper into what they are saying. Sometimes it can feel hard to initiate or expand a topic if you're not sure a person wants to open up. But this is where things get really interesting, and where a conversation becomes the most rewarding for listener and speaker alike.