Listening is the process of taking in information someone else is saying. This can be more difficult than we expect. When people, often parents, ask whether or not someone is listening, it’s not about the sounds of the words. It’s about the meaning behind them.
Listening is necessary for building relationships and maintaining connection. But it can be a challenge, because the words that are said can have multiple meanings. There’s the meaning that the person intended, the meaning the words chosen actually conveyed, and the meaning applied to the words by the person listening to them.
Why Listening Matters
The goal of listening is to understand the other person, rather than making yourself understood. Doing this requires that you focus on the other person’s words, rather than planning your response.
People who feel listened to also feel valued and are more likely to listen in response, and they’re more likely to trust and support the listener. At the same time, people who don’t feel listened to are unlikely to listen in return, and are more likely to mistrust and not support the other person.
Improving Your Listening Skills
- Be present and resist distractions. Focus on the conversation at hand, and try not to think about something else. Turn off the TV. Turn away from the computer. Silence your phone. And give the other person the entire focus of your intention.
- As questions and paraphrase. When you don’t understand something, it is better to ask an honest question than to let uncertainty remain. Ask politely when you don’t understand, and find opportunities to paraphrase what you’ve heard. This isn’t about repeating things word for word; it’s about showing the other person that you’re listening for the important theme, and about making sure you’re understanding correctly.
- Validate the person speaking. You don’t have to agree with someone else to recognize feelings or perceptions. Rather than trying to convince someone else NOT to feel something, acknowledge that the feeling exists.
- Manage your own emotions. Don’t let what you’re feeling get in the way. It’s up to you to control your emotions so that they don’t control you. And uncontrolled emotions get in the way of really listening to someone else, particularly if you disagree.