Listening is a skill many of us need to brush up on. Myself included. Just this week, I was confronted with the criticism that sometimes I don’t put as much effort into listening to those around me as I should.
Ouch. That hurt.
However, the more I look into that criticism, I realize that it was definitely of the constructive type. Remember that blog post from last week? Well, it’s time for me to practice what I preach. I’ve evaluated. And, I see listening skills that need some work. Are my listening skills better than they were 3 years ago? You bet. That doesn’t mean they are perfect, though.
Building authentic relationships won’t happen if we don’t take the time to listen to those we care about.
I decided a blog post to keep myself accountable was in order. And, I’m taking a venture that I’m not the only one who needs to work on listening skills. . .
- Pick up on the hint & shut up.
Social cues, people. Especially to those extroverted people like myself. We like to hear ourselves speak. We enjoy being in charge of a conversation. However, we should stop talking long enough to notice that other humans use the English language, too. Ok? We should be aware enough of what’s going on to know when our spouse, friend, coworker, or acquaintance needs to share something with us. It might be something small – a quick idea or a passing thought. Yet, it might be something deep and profound, and the speaker has chosen you (or me) to be the one they speak to. Own up to their expectation of you. You are the one they need to listen to them. Right there. Right then. Stop talking. Let other people carry the conversation sometimes. Let other people give their opinions. Give other people enough time to share their thoughts, too. Be aware. Shut your mouth.
- Make eye contact.
When someone is talking to you, make eye contact. Not in an awkward way, of course. Just simply shift your attention to the person speaking. This affirms the speaker, showing that what they have to say is important to you. This seems like something small, but I know how annoyed I get when I’m trying to share an opinion and the person I’m talking to drifts off into outer-space or sinks into the abyss of the computer screen sitting in front of them. Don’t do that to people. Be better than that.
- Put aside all distractions.
Earnest Hemingway put it like this: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Give the person talking to you the respect they deserve. We live in such a demanding and distracting time. There’s always someone to text, a call to make, a social media account to keep up with, or something to accomplish. Life isn’t about things, though. It’s about people. Pay attention when those people have something to say to you. Shut your phone off, clear your head, and focus.
- Get rid of pre-conceived notions or ideas.
Whenever someone starts sharing, our mind usually starts racing. In fact, sometimes my mind is racing about the situation BEFORE the person starts sharing about it. Ooops! Let’s face it. . . We are all opinionated people. We draw conclusions from one side of the story before we hear the other. We see the wrong in others’ lives before we see our own. We have 10 good solutions to someone else’s problem. Back up. Stop. Erase your notions, ideas, opinions, and solutions out of your head. Give the person talking the decency to solicit an unbiased opinion from you. Listen closely for their feelings, side of the story, opinions, etc.
- Gauge the emotional pulse.
The emotional state of the speaker will determine your response. If they seem troubled, a blunt answer might not be best. If they seem broken, a hug might be in order. If they seem insecure, some sincere compliments might be the appropriate reply. Tune in. Pick up on the signals. Be kind. Saying the right thing at the wrong time could very possibly be the wrong thing to do.
- Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for.
Yikes. That’s hard. I like to fix problems. Give my opinions. Offer solutions. Sometimes, though, that’s just not what’s needed. If they ask, fire away. If they don’t, wait patiently. You and I both know how irritating it is to get advice you did NOT want.
- Silence is acceptable.
Pretty self-explanatory, I think. You can care for your family and friends by simply letting them know that you are there for them. Cheer them on – pray for them – send them a card or a gift. Don’t overdo the talking – talking’s overrated.
I hope these seven ways challenge you like they are currently challenging me. I want to love those around me and deepen my friendships by brushing up on my listening skills – talking less and caring more.