Listen Up

Hearing is easy, but listening can be hard. In just about any helping profession you may go into, you’ll hear this message over and over again. You’ll probably think it’s a trivial, obvious conclusion. You’ll convince yourself you got the message and understand it, and then time and again, something will pull the carpet out from under you. Reminders of the effort that good listening takes will come often.

My fiancée is already feeling buried under chapters of reading for her classes, having just started her BSc in nursing a week ago. I had a look through the course reading package for one of her classes, and saw a chapter out of a book called “The Lost Art of Listening.” Though we shared a chuckle over some of the dated examples used to illustrate how, in a therapeutic sense, proficient listening skills are often more effective than expert “speaking skills,” the reading was a reminder to me of the value of strong, active listening.

It can be incredibly healing to have someone listen to you—really listen—for an uninterrupted period of time. Most people don’t experience that on any kind of regular basis. In fact, some people never experience it at all, until they find themselves sitting in a therapist’s office.

But what makes someone a good listener? Isn’t it just a matter of shutting up and letting the other person talk?

Well, that’s one important part of it, to be sure. You can’t be listening and talking at the same time. Still, there are more considerations. While listening would seem to be a fairly passive process, those who are good at it are actually being very active. Good listening takes effort and concentration. It involves communicating to the speaker that you understand what they are communicating to you—verbally and nonverbally. It involves an inherently empathic process of psychologically entering that person’s world, having a look around, and removing the coloured glasses you use to see your own world.

Listening can take a lot of work, and I think it’s obvious to most people that listening is important. Still, we tend to not do enough of it when push comes to shove. In our desire to help or wish to contribute our ideas, we interrupt others, give unsolicited advice and share our own “expert” opinions. While another is speaking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say next instead of trying to focus on where they’re coming from.

You’d be amazed at the difference a little extra listening can make. In your talks with friends and significant others, when meeting new people (i.e., networking), in job interviews and pretty much everywhere else, listening should make up more than half of what you’re doing. When you’re doing a good best online casino job of listening, the rest should come naturally.

Not that this sort of thing ever really becomes totally natural, but in some specific contexts, you can train yourself to go into automatic “listening mode.” For example, through extensive training and supervised practice, many therapists will adopt a routine “way of being” with clients whose foundation is built on active listening. When I meet with students, it’s actually pretty easy for me to devote a lot of time and energy to listening, because I’m in a specific role in which that quality has been heavily invested and developed.

By contrast, when I’m at home or meeting with friends, my brain shifts out of listening mode into more automatic ways of being. As an optimist, I have a way of looking at things positively and making this known to other people in my life. So, when my fiancée tells me that she’s stressed out from all the readings she has to do, along with wedding planning, work and all sorts of other things, my first instinct is to try to use my awesome positivity to make her see that it’s not really as bad as it feels. So I might say something like, “don’t worry—things will get easier once you have more of a routine down.”

When she gets more frustrated, at first I’m confused. I’m just trying to make her feel better! Why is my positive perspective making her mad? We’ve been through it enough times for me to know exactly why: she doesn’t need to hear my positive perspective (even if it’s totally right); what she needs is for me to listen to what she’s saying and acknowledge her feelings, instead of offering a solution. Despite my good intentions, I’m essentially communicating to her that her feelings are wrong or out of place.

So take a page out of my book, and before you have to start giving extra back rubs, listen up! You’ll not only be more likely to stay out of the doghouse, you’ll probably enrich all of your relationships.

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