Listening is not a passive act, not if we are truly listening, as when we are truly listening we are physically present. We can take in the words and presence of another.
How much of our environment, let alone the people we interact with, do you think we take in when our mind is working so fast on the things we need to do, or to remember, or to say, or we are preoccupied with the way we are feeling or what others may be thinking? We may feel like we are being present and to be fair, to a degree we will be. However, the degree will be greatly diminished.
Effective listening is being involved in the act of listening or perhaps I should say process, as there is more than one layer to listening.
If we are thinking of how to respond whilst someone is speaking to us, then we are not listening fully to the other person. We are half listening, perhaps less. This means we are missing things.
Listen to hear what is being said, rather than considering what we will say in response or what we think and feel about what is said. Naturally, these things will happen, indeed, to be an effective listener we need to be able to interpret what we hear and see, but let it be part of the process, not the immediate thing that happens. Linking back to some of my previous blogs, be present in the moment and observe first.
Allow time for people to speak for themselves and in their way. Let there be a silence, short or long, people need time to process their thoughts and how they feel, not just us in relation to what we have heard. Silence doesn’t have to be cold and indifferent. Silence can be warm and loving, giving of ones time and attention and holding of another (and ourselves) through being physically attentive.
Listen to hear the words that are spoken, remembering that words have different meanings to us all. We have our own perception and interpretation processes which can lead us to give different meanings to words. Sure there is the customary meaning found in official dictionaries but even so, we still need to be mindful of our own personal interpretation. It’s always a good idea to check our understanding of what is said to ensure we are understanding what was meant.
Listening to all the cues involved in human communication, that’s facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, energy levels and the words used. If we don’t listen to all of the communication and we don’t engage in the process of the communication itself, then we will miss at least in part, what is being communicated and an opportunity to truly connect.
In order to listen effectively we need to engage and to be physically present. Hear the words spoken, how they were said, observing body posture and respond reflectively. That is relaying in our words what it is we hear being communicated. The person/people we are with will clarify anything that has been misunderstood or perhaps the speaker may realise, hearing our reflection, they haven’t communicated what they thought they did.
Being physically present and attentive, consciously, leads us to naturally engage with others. Then listening attentively becomes something we do not need to think about, as we will be engaged with the connection we are experiencing.
For example, I felt I wasn’t heard when the person I spoke to automatically responded by recounting something they felt was similar to what I was talking about. Being on the receiving end of this, I felt what I said had been replaced and the person I was with wasn’t interested in what I was sharing with them. What would have met my needs and I did mention this to them, would have been if they could have engaged with me and what I shared, before sharing their own experience.
Reflecting the essence of what we hear using our own words (paraphrasing) can lead to feeling heard and understood. It can also highlight to the speaker whether they have expressed themselves the way they thought they had and if any clarification is needed. To be useful, the reflection needs to be concise, otherwise we could lose the other person, after all, we can only take in so much information, right?
So, thought for the day: Actively listen by showing through your body you are present with the other person/people, show that you are listening in your facial expressions, your gestures, hear the words spoken, be attentive to what you see in the other persons body language and take your time. There is no reason why human connection has to be undertaken as if we were all on speed.