Did you ever notice people thank us for listening, not for speaking? Nothing is more satisfying than a good listener, because complete attention feels like a precious gift. I’m a talker, so listening was not easy, as it might be for others who naturally listen. I had to learn the difference between active and passive listening, which really helped me in my life and career. Even if I don’t like someone, I can create a worthwhile experience for both of us by deciding to listen, focusing on my words, tone of voice and non-verbal behaviors so our interaction doesn’t feel like a waste of time.
I needed to learn how to shut my mouth and open my ears, which is not a bad thing, and actually makes my life go more smoothly. The other person usually wants to give a viewpoint, or information, so I let them finish, and ask a few questions, and I don’t cut them off in midstream. They don’t hate me like they might have before when they didn’t feel heard. It’s not phony to shut up and listen, it’s actually mature and unselfish, which is why I had to learn how to do it. I wasn’t ready to hear another person’s concerns, because I was mostly interested in what I wanted to share.
According to communication experts, listening includes:
•Active listening, which is making a decision to focus attention on the speaker’s entire message
•Passive listening, which is not hearing a message, only sounds without understanding wash over us
•Words are 7%
•Tone of voice is 38% of listening
• Non-verbal expression is 55% of our experience
At work, people pay me money to be there, so why not utilize the employer’s time to practice listening and make job interactions go better? It usually helps, even if I don’t like the person I’m talking with. Sometimes the person doesn’t have a clue they are boring or self-involved, because they communicate with others like they are the only ones who count. Therefore I’m changing my experience in an interaction because I choose to practice listening, and not be captive by somebody who doesn’t even know they aren’t effectively interacting with others.
My friend recently took an effective communication class, and reminded me of the ‘I message’ technique, which is an affirmative statement using the word ‘I’, so the other person doesn’t misunderstand or accuse. For example, “I feel disregarded when you switch topics while I’m talking,” the person listens to your “I” message, and can’t argue about it, because it’s a declarative statement of need, and the “I message” can diffuse individual personalities from the conversation, keeping the focus on a need for change instead.
In my marriage, it’s easy to ignore important signals my spouse sends me, and when I do that, he feels disrespected by my lack of attention, which doesn’t help. I feel the same way when he blows me off and doesn’t seem to care, especially when we have a problem that needs to be solved, and we aren’t willing to actively listen to each other.
Yesterday I experimented with listening to a person talk about California water rights, which could be a flatline subject, but is very important these days. The person talked about their experience with a well they paid big dough for on their property, and said that in an extreme drought like we’re having now, a person’s own well that they bought, and the water from that well on their property can be confiscated by the State. I didn’t interrupt, asked for clarification of what facts he had, instead of ranting and sidetracking about the lousy government or how bad this drought is, which I might have done before. He offered more information, and taught me something! I kept my my mind open, my mouth shut, and learned something, wow.
For me, listening might actually become easier than talking, and it seems that listening may actually be the driver in controlling conversations. The listener actively asks questions that lead the speaker along in response, not the other way around. Then, as an added benefit, the speaker appreciates being heard, which makes them feel good. That’s cool too.