Do you believe that listening is easy and requires little energy? Or that it is involuntary? Or it is the responsibility of the speaker to hold your attention?
These beliefs are a few of the fallacies that interfere with your ability to listen effectively to others and to reduce the amount of conflict and misunderstanding in your life. Often when there is conflict and misunderstanding, we are overly emotional and believe that a person needs to change. But sometimes, we are not hearing, understanding or responding to what the other person is actually communicating. Listening can reduce interpersonal problems that stem from lack of understanding, not remembering or misinterpretations.
In his book Listening Behaviors, Larry Barker suggests particular behaviors that will improve your ability to listen:
1. Be prepared to listen. When you enter into a conversation or approach someone to clarify a situation, come at a time when you are physically and mentally prepared to listen. If you are tired, preoccupied or overly emotional it will be much harder to really hear what the other person is saying.
2. Behave like a good listener: Don’t interrupt, avoid arguing about words, be patient, ask questions, withhold opinions and judgments until you have heard the entire message and are sure that you understand it.
3. Listen for main points: sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Try to identify the main theme the speaker is trying to communicate. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by digressions.
4. Be flexible in your views: Examine your own views and ask yourself whether there are contradictory views that can exist simultaneously as your own. Is it possible that someone with different experiences and a different point-of-view can have and equally valid, but different perspective?
5. Notice emotionally laden words: Sometimes the words and phrases a speaker uses can trigger intense emotions that make it difficult to hear what they are trying to communicate. Judgmental words, harsh criticisms and offensive or racist statements can arouse intense emotions and shut down your listening. Try to be aware of when your emotions are interfering with your ability to listen.
Your own past experiences, culture and personality have an impact on how you see the world. Listening to others is a way of expanding your view of the world, as well as a way to bridge the differences between you and someone else. When you actually hear what someone is saying, you can respond to them effectively and solve the real problems that are presented, rather than staying stuck in disagreement and misunderstanding.
Photo by Simon James, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.