The Art of Listening

Are You Listening?

Have you ever been listened to in a way that makes you feel truly heard?
Did it make you feel validated? Perhaps understood?
Chances are you felt connected to who was listening to you.

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Why can some people makes us feel more understood than others? The answer, I believe, is because they are actively listening and giving their full attention to whatever is being said.

Have you ever been talking to someone who cut you off? How about talking to someone who started texting someone while you were speaking? Perhaps talking to someone only to find they didn’t understand what you were staying in the slightest? How did you feel after these encounters? I imagine you didn’t feel great. When you take the time to talk to someone and they don’t truly listen to you it often feels degrading, insulting, and just plain bad!

No one is perfect, yet there are ways we can work towards being better listeners. As you become a better listener it is likely that your friends and colleagues will pick up on your listening skills and unconsciously improve their listening abilities too! They will also feel more validated and appreciated.

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Improving Your Listening Skills

1) Take time to be fully present to the other person. Look at them, notice them. Are they wearing their hair in a new way? What color of shirt are they wearing? What color are their eyes? Take time to notice and appreciate that you are listening to a unique individual whose life has been incredibly different from yours, although it might be similar in some ways.

2) Block out your own opinions. You will likely feel the need to interject while listening, we all have opinions and views on topics. Try not to let yourself do this. The time for you to speak will come when the person you are listening to is done. This does not mean devaluing your opinions; rather, it means setting them aside so that you remain focused on listening.

3) Paraphrase. This is one of the best tools you can learn in order to test whether or not you have actually listened to someone. This small communication tool has saved many relationships and is an excellent way to demonstrate that you understand what a person has said. In order to paraphrase you must take what the person has said and say it back to them with different words. For instance:

Talker: I had the loveliest morning! I walked to the beach, wrote in my journal, and even made time for a coffee on the way back.

Listener: It sounds like you really enjoyed your morning! You were able to get to the beach, get some writing done, and even grab a coffee! Wow!

Talker: Thanks! It WAS great! I wish I could do this every morning! I am so busy these days, and Sarah works so much I never really get to see her. What can you do though I guess? That’s Vancouver life!

Listener: You and Sarah are so busy you don’t really get to enjoy days like these…it sounds like you wish you had more time.

You don’t want to paraphrase your entire conversation-that would interrupt the natural flow; however, paraphrasing is a lovely way to help someone to feel heard.

4) Don’t assume-ask. Don’t assume you know what someone is saying. Use statements like: “It sounds like…, it appears that…, I’m curious about…, are you feeling like…?”
If you are unsure it is always better to ask for clarification.

6) Use I statements-not “you” statements. I often teach couples this method in order to prevent disagreements from turning into heated, and often unhelpful, fights. When we use “you” statements we are really stating that YOU are the problem, and that YOU should change. When we use I statements we are describing how I am feeling, and how I am being influenced by a behaviour or event.

For instance, say two couples are fighting about cleaning. One couple uses “you” statements and the other uses “I statements”:

Lucy: The house is so dirty! Why are you always throwing your stuff around!? I always clean and you never do! Honestly, I love you, but you are such a slob! How can you live in this!?

Kelly: Seriously? You are going to pull that on my right now? I had a tough day at work and you come in here and scream at me about being a slob? You are being a total jerk right now. You could do more around the house too you know, it’s not all me.

Mike: Ack I can’t stand it anymore! The house is super dirty! I really appreciate a clean house. A dirty house makes me feel like I am living like a slob. Do you think we could figure out a way to keep this place from getting so dirty? I really would like something to change, the messiness is making me feel really gross.

Dan: I get that you don’t like how messy the house is. I just got home from work and had a super tough day. I don’t want you to feel gross, and I know I can be bad about leaving things around. It’s really hard to hear about how I’ve messed up again after coming home from such an awful day. Can we talk about this after supper?

I know these are fictional stories, but you get the point! Now imagine if we added paraphrasing into Mike and Dan’s conversation! How lovely would that be? Using I statements allows for resolution, while using “you” statements usually leads to defensiveness and non-helpful conflict.

I hope you can use some of these ideas to better your listening skills!
Thank you for existing!


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