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How do you rate your listening skills?

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How do you rate your listening skills?

Learning to listen is an active process that takes work

We have two ears and one tongue for a reason. Most claim it is because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. Others have suggested it is because listening is twice as hard as talking.

Most of us like to think we are good listeners. Most of us aren’t. We have developed and, in some cases, perfected the art of ‘faking attention’, of looking ‘as if’ we are listening but, in reality, we’re probably making lists of things we need to do, judging and silently commenting on what are hearing, deciding how we will respond, preparing advice based on our own experiences and feelings. We are tuning in and tuning out. We are more interested in talking and looking for an opportunity to do so.

Listening is taken for granted. It is assumed that if you can hear, you can listen. However, hearing and listening are not the same. Hearing is a very passive process. Listening is active and as such requires effort.

Most of us are waiting for a gap in the conversation, for the speaker to pause so we can jump in. If we can’t wait, we will interrupt. When the goal is to speak, it is hard to be patient and remain silent. When the goal is to understand, or to allow the other person to express their thoughts and feelings, we can be more at ease with waiting.

Why is listening so hard?

One of our innate needs as a human being is to be heard. Who, in your personal or professional life, listens to you? I mean, really listens to you – with patience, genuine interest, and full attention? Why is it so hard?

  • We listen at a much faster speed than we speak – up to 3-4 times faster. In the time lag, our mind wanders and our interest and attention fades.
  • Many people believe that if we ‘just listen’ we are somehow doing less. Our ego gets in the way. We want to disclose our wisdom (which is acceptable, if it’s offered at the appropriate time, after you have had a chance to listen and understand)
  • We don’t know any better. Our role models might not have been good listeners, or didn’t connect well with us as children, so we haven’t been taught the skills.
  • We assume that if we don’t immediately say what comes to mind, we will forget it. So, we interrupt, talk over, and jump in.
  • Listening is not valued, in the workplace or the home. At work we are often most rewarded for leading conversations. We may have to compete to be heard at home.
  • Thanks to technology and digital communications, we have never been more distracted or occupied. Social media, in particular, is designed for us to share our own narrative.

The stakes are high

In a recent survey by Psychometrics Canada (People Trends 2020), poor communication is identified as the most common pitfall in the workplace.

Listening is how we connect, co-operate, empathize, build, and retain, trust and respect. When we listen, we develop new perspectives and understanding of the world and of others. It’s how we unite and support each other, regardless of our differences. It also helps move past our unconscious bias. All of which is especially important given the pandemic and the new norms of physical distancing, remote working and hours of online communication and interaction.

Online communication offers a different set of challenges to navigate. It can be harder to be heard unless there are some boundaries and agreements in place to give everyone equal turns to speak. Then there’s the ‘mute microphone’ feature which a host can enable if they don’t want to hear, or invite comments, from participants.

Ease rather than urgency

When we are too busy to listen, we are easily distracted, we jump in too soon with questions and assumptions of our own, we close conversations down, we prevent others from expressing their feelings and thoughts, we throw out solutions and fixes, and minimize problems. People don’t feel heard, valued, or respected.

This is not the way to build rapport and relationships. When we listen, our presence (facial expressions, body language) and, importantly, our environment (the space/room), need to convey a sincere interest to connect with the speaker’s thoughts and ideas. The message from the listener needs to be “you matter to me”.

The power of listening

As Psychotherapist and author Esther Perel has said, “collective trauma requires collective healing”. Listening has the power to heal, to transform, to free the mind of limiting thoughts and assumptions, to ignite creativity and innovation, to find solutions and clarity, to reduce tension.

It takes energy, practice, and discipline. It starts with a commitment to want to listen. It requires that we reframe what it means to listen. It demands that we are at ease when we listen, to silence the internal chatter and manage external distractions.

While listening is the most demanding aspect of communication it is also one of the most rewarding for our relationships and results, at home and at work.

How will you improve your listening skills?

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