Sometimes people forget to listen to each people with any sincere interest. Good
listening often replaces an egocentric need to impress someone with how much more
special your story or accomplishments are than theirs. When someone is sharing their
story with you, notice how their joy is minimized in telling it when you jump in with
comments about yourself. This habit can quickly create distance between you and
The next time you’re in a conversation with someone, try talking only about the
other person for a change. Don’t talk about your own experiences and what you're
reminded of, etc., but consciously notice your tendency to say something about
yourself or your tendency to rebut what you just heard the other party say. Surrender
this tendency to interject your comments, and just share in the other person’s joy in
telling their story and see how much more fun and smiles they experience when they
don't sense competition from you. A person cannot feel heard if you’re sharing your
great idea about something. Only after the person has felt heard is it time to share
your ideas and advice and then you’ll find they will listen to you much better too!
You in turn will acquire a peaceful inner confidence that is derived from letting others
have the spotlight and attention for a change. It's a magical feeling!
As an exercise in listening, take turns with a partner so that one talks and the other
listens for a full 10 minutes. As the listener, occasionally ask encouraging questions
to reassure your partner of your interest or make positive comments like, "Yes, I
think so too" or "Can you tell me more" or "I see what you mean" or “I want to hear
the whole story,” etc. to your speaking partner. Make sure your facial and body
language is also in accord with this affirmative tone. For instance, don't frown or
grimace in disagreement while saying, "Yes, I agree" verbally.
Mindfully put your body in the same postural position as the speaker's, modeling
their head, body, arm and leg gestures identically. Do all of this with conscious
definitude and sincerity. In fact, modeling a speaker’s voice tonality, eye contact,
loudness, posture, word content and gesturing is a good way to establish comfort and
acceptance in the other person without their noticing that you are modeling their
behavior. Be endorsing and acknowledging, not placating and excessively excited.
Don’t compete for the energy throughout the conversation.
As a good listener, don’t get hung up on a speaker’s delivery - squeaky voice,
occasional stutter, etc. for it tends to distract you from receiving the underlying
message. You also must tune out distractions in the immediate environment that could divert your attention from focusing on the speaker. Discipline yourself to
maintain eye contact, lean forward in your chair and accept the speaker’s message
without judging it as right or wrong. Doing this allows you to look for other clues,
like body language and voice tonality. Are these clues consistent with what is being
told to you? Is the message genuine or staged?
As the speaker, talk for 10 minutes to your partner about something you feel
strongly about -- abortion, quality education, pollution, war, peace, a lover, etc.
People often need to discharge as an emotional release, so good listening allows this
release to unfold. If you do not allow a person to talk to completion, they cannot
discharge their discomfort or pain inside and it stays unfavorably bottled up.
Reciprocation is also important, so after you both have had a chance to be the
listener and speaker, compare the feelings you have concerning each other. Did you
think your partner was listening with sincerity? Shutting your mouth also allows the
listener to consciously tune into more levels than just words! You can even change
your listening perspective. If you were listening for content, listen instead for any
subtle emotions you pick up from the listener. What does the body language tell you
about the person, and ask yourself what brought that person to their present state of
mind!? The listener may even begin to feel accepted by you as you pick up on parts
of them that they can’t articulate or even express openly. Being a good listener takes
practice, but it’s worth the effort and can truly change your life.