Listening: A long-forgotten art form
Ask anyone what it takes for successful communication to take place and see what they say.
Willing to wager that listening is NOT on that list?
Surprisingly enough, most folks have no clue about what it takes to communicate effectively. Sure, a clear, concise message conveying your position and supporting statements to back up your stance are on that list.
But, in order to effectively communicate, with one person or a group, requires a long-forgotten art form called “listening”.
The point that most people are merely just waiting to respond. But, respond to what?
Listening: The first pillar to communicating effectively
If you want to communicate well either in business or in your personal life, then you must apply the best practices in communicating, and that means all of them, not just some of them.
The first pillar to communicating effectively is to listen to what the other side(s) of the conversation are saying.
But, what is the art of listening, and how does one master it?
It’s been studied over and over, and time and time again the study concludes that despite the available knowledge about the power of listening, attention spans get shorter and shorter and we listen less and less. Something has got to give!
So, let’s look at a few ways in which listening improves communication skills and allows for better relationships in general.
How active listening can help improve our communication skills
1. Relevant Discussion: When we engage in active listening, we can better discuss and even debate the best ideas to try or course of action to take. It keeps the conversation flowing without diving sharply off course.
2. Grows Mutual Respect: How much respect do you hold for someone who never pays attention to what you say? It can be more than annoying to have to repeat ourselves because the other person we were talking to wasn’t listening, right? When we engage and are present and actively listening, we are communicating a sign of respect to our counterparts.
3. Shut Up & Learn Something New: When we are busy talking, we are merely reciting things we already know. Our brains are great computers for remembering (sometimes) useless or antiquated facts and beliefs. However, if we shut our trap long enough and really tune into what the other is saying…We just might learn something useful and new!
4. Improved Memory: When we actively listen and learn new ways to view or do things, we are in fact exercising our brains and improving out memory recall. Our mind may be a complicated machine, but even the best computers need updates to stay in the game!
5. Builds Trust: If someone is actively present with us when we are trying to convey our intimate or emotional thoughts and feelings, it builds our trust in them. If they seem haphazard and self-absorbed we pull away (or should). “We all need someone we can lean on” (M. Jager-The Rolling Stones) sang that, and you know what?
“If you want to, you can lean on me”
He also sang that second part too…
But, he brings up an immensely good point. Every person on the planet no matter how tough or desensitized to the cold, cruel world they may be, has moments where all they want…all they NEED is someone to listen to their worries, sorrows, or problems.
Worry may not take away pain & sorrow, but listening can take someone away else’s…
Let me ask you this… If you knew that taking just Five simple minutes to listen to someone else’s problems, without trying to fix them or offer advice would turn the course of their downtrodden life around 180* in the right direction…
Would you do it?
More to the point, what would you give up in order to do so?
True you could just pass on by avoiding the glance from the man with the haggard and broken stance. You could take one passing look at his empty cup and turn away, but what if you happened to dare look him in the eyes?
There’s an eerie emptied longing in the eyes of someone with nothing more left to lose. It’s a strange energy, that emptiness.
It cries in pain while being totally free of societal conventions. It smiles into nothingness as nothingness stares right through to your soul. There is no judgment, no petty grievances.
But what there is…Is a story. If you take the time to listen.
Listening to tales from the other side literally changed my life
Every writer I’ve ever met has a story about a life changing moment. I’ll bet that if you ask around, most people can tell you at least one moment where listening to someone else’s story changed their perspective on life.
I do, how about you?
Back in Rochester, NY where I grew up, there was this man I’d see every day while I was riding the bus to and from work. Eventually, I would discover his name was Marcus.
He was tall, maybe 6’2″ or better and almost emaciated from years of walking all day and all night and eating off the scraps he could find.
His hair was matted into one big beaver-tail dreadlock that swung all the way to his ankles as he staggered along. His eyes never rose from the sidewalk 3-feet in front of steps.
His life was a seemingly solitary life-long loneliness of a self-made martyr. I passed him by a few times and tried to offer a quick hello and a smile yet still, his eyes never lifted.
Then, one day out of nowhere…He spoke to me. He asked for a cigarette and halfway through my last one, I handed him the short. In the most shocking of reactions, he looked up and cracked a smile!
I couldn’t believe it!
And as I sat down next to him and attempted to engage him in a chat, he obliged. I shared my steak sub with him and he began to tell me the story of his life and how he went from all-star high school letterman to life-long street walker.
I sat and listened. As he continued on and on, and in that 45-minute conversation I let him tell me his story. Although he told it like he’d rehearsed it a thousand times, I can imagine I might have been a small handful of people that ever heard the saga of his life.
I grew as a person that day. Some years later, due to unfortunate circumstances, I found myself homeless wandering the streets recalling the lessons I learned that day and silently thanking Marcus as I walked down the street.
Listening can change your life, it might save your life
When we actively listen to what is actually being said we can respond properly in good time. If we simply listen for our turn to speak context gets lost.
In some cases, not listening can prove costly, even fatal to relationships. We’ve all done it. The knee-jerk reaction halfway through someone’s sentence that not only was a misread social cue, but the single glowing spark that sets the entire love tundra ablaze with furious flames of anger.
If we listen to all of what someone is saying, we might learn that they were not criticizing us, or telling us that we were wrong, but that they felt a certain way about something. If we’re distracted, the likelihood of miscommunication increases exponentially.
Effective communication relies on active listening on both parts. In order to convey our true message we also have to be silent and still as much as we wish to speak.
I invite you to listen actively to those you are communicating with and see how the flow of verbal expression improves. Good luck & happy communicating!
If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to leave a comment sharing your communication/listening challenges and your tales of how listening actively changed your life or even just a viewpoint.
As always, if you found value in this article, please like & share it with your social circles and share the good word.