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Thoughts on listening well

I think listening is a dying skill. From seeing friends misunderstand the unrest in our culture over this past year to sitting in a meeting with a potential consultant we might hire, it seems like people are talking (a lot), but few are listening. Listening is about understanding someone else’s motives. Why are they protesting? Why does the company need a consultant? Why is your kid melting down? How are all of these people feeling as they are acting like this?

We tend to be a society that acts. Or rather, a society that reacts almost instantly. Are we responding too quickly? Do we react without having listened? Have we responded before fully understanding the situation from the point of view of someone else? I think we have.

Let me suggest that we listen well first, before we react too quickly. Here are a few thoughts on how to listen well.

  • Understand the why. If your spouse seems frustrated responding with instant (and equal) frustration will just escalate a situation that you don’t fully understand. Instead, seek to understand why your spouse seems frustrated before you respond too quickly.
  • Ask questions and assume you do not know the answer. Too often we ask questions assuming we know the answer to them and then never really listen to the answer at all. Don’t do that.
  • Be certain that you listen as much, or more, than you talk. If the conversation feels lopsided to you at all, it is likely very lopsided. By the time you think, “Oh, I have probably talked for 65% of the conversation” you have probably dominated for 85% of it.
  • Ask questions and shut up. When we aren’t fully sure about a question, there is an interesting tendency to ask the question and then rephrase it several times as if we are afraid to stop talking and just let the question stand. Ask the question, if it isn’t perfect, so be it.
  • Take notes. If you want to listen well, take notes on what is being said. Even if you never look at your notes in the future, the act of taking notes will force you to listen and help you to better remember the conversation later.
  • Have empathy. This may be the biggest thing I see lacking in our culture lately. Try to understand how the other person is feeling at a deeper level.
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