Yes, true listening is a powerful tool for influencing and communicating in difficult situations. We all listen a lot of the time, we think. But is it true listening? Are you really listening to me? With a little effort it can make an enormous difference especially in a difficult relationship moment. There’s not a big pressure to pay attention to listening when it is going easy and well – but when there’s some tension, when we have to communicate under pressure – that’s when true listening becomes critical.
Decide to listen. Firstly, you have to be willing. Decide to give Other your full attention no matter what you are really thinking. A choice. If conversation is slow, ask a question – something non-invasive and easy…their interests, what brings them to this event, what have they been doing today, how do they spend their time…you know, Small Talk. It’s safe. It’s a tester…who are you?
Pay attention to their answers. Look at them as they speak, giving eye contact. Orientate your body towards them. Give encouraging physical feedback – nod your head, make interested social noises as appropriate (do use common sense on these things!) without making it into a mockery.
Look interested and sound interested. “Really?” “Hmm.” “Yes/No.” “I see.”
Repeat key words. This encourages more information or explanation on those points.
Restate key phrases. This affirms that you understood some important elements of the story.
Summarise. Get the headlines of the whole story but in a sentence or so. If you don’t get it right, they will correct you.
These skills are not difficult. The difficult part is switching off your internal commentary. The usual practice of assessing what is being said against your own experience or perceptions, of thinking about how this reminds you of other stories you could share, of indulging in your emotional responses or of judging the person as they speak.
If we want to connect with Others then we need to demonstrate that we are safe as a sounding board, that we are interested, that we can respectfully make space for their thoughts, opinions and even the sound of their voice, their message, in our world. Can you do it?
True listening is a challenge that pays instant dividends. Test it.