Self Improvement 14: Truly Listen

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truly listen

When we talk with people, we are often concentrating on what to say next or how to cut in than what the person is actually talking about. It’s all about me, me, me…

When you give your full attention, they will feel that. Your conversation partner will perceive you as an intense listener who’s really interested in the conversation. You will get a deeper understanding of your conversation partner and learn to see the point of view of other people. This is active listening.

5 ways to listen better: In our louder and louder world, says sound expert Julian Treasure, “We are losing our listening.” In this short, fascinating talk, Treasure shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening — to other people and the world around you.

Focus fully on your partner

First, focus fully on your conversation partner. If you have tried meditation, then approach listening the same way. Replace the focus on yourself and your body with full attention on the person you are talking with. Don’t think what you are going to say next, think only about what they are saying.

Truly listening requires considerable mental effort and you have to remind yourself to focus as your thoughts are trying to jump to other matters. Willfully bring your attention back to your partner every time the mind starts to wander. You will lose focus more often than you think possible and if you are not careful, you’ll forget to bring your focus back to the conversation and your partner.

How to give your brain something to do that relates to the conversation and the person you are talking with? Following are the different aspects that help you build context and understand the other side better.

Ernest Hemingway quote listen

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. ~~Ernest Hemingway

The tone of voice

The tone of voice will speak volumes about how the words are meant to be taken. Happy, angry, funny, ironic, sad, etc. The same sentence may have opposite meaning depending on the how the speaker is saying it. Their pronunciation may give clues to their origins which in turn add to the understanding of how this may relate to the subject of the discussion.

Facial expressions

The expression on their face may have some clues about their attitudes. However, do not take expressions at face value. You may mistake concentration for anger or relaxation with arrogance. Combine the different aspects to get the coherent picture.
Along with the face, look at what their body is saying? Are they laid back and relaxed or on the edge of the? Are they leaning in or keeping their distance?

The details

What word and phrases do they use? This or that, goal or objective, soda or pop. Take it in and weave it into your understanding of the topic and the person.

The speed of their speech may hit at their emotional states. Are they talking fast because they are nervous, angry, or excited? Are they thoughtful or bored?

Seek understanding

Seek understanding and don’t try to mentally decipher all the signals you have collected. This will lead to losing focus and defeating the point of this exercise. You want to be the sponge but leave the processing for later.

Do not judge and be on their side. You have all the time in the world to change sides and confront them. Start with the acceptance and attempt to see their side of the issue. If something is unclear ask for more details to fill blanks. If something seems contrary to what you believe, ask for an explanation. Make them talk more by asking:

  • and then,
  • really,
  • did I get that right,
  • how do/did you feel about that, etc.

You can apply this to any exchange. The 3-hours long philosophical discussion with the friend, the meeting with the client or the brief encounter with the checkout clerk. The key is to focus, not criticize and seek understanding, so your conversation partner feels your interest and respect.

Now resolve to focus on conversations for just one day and see what happens.

Image: Giant listening device by James Vaughan
Image: Ernest Hemingway at the Finca Vigia, Cuba 1946 by Wikimedia Commons

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1 Response

  1. May 24, 2013

    […] Improve Your Life #14: Truly Listen […]

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