Listen More, Talk Less
When someone expresses concern or doubt, I often find myself searching for the perfect thing to say. How do I offer the best advice? What can I say to make someone feel better? While this comes with good intentions, it can actually do more harm than good! I recently took a leadership class on communication which helped me realize that sometimes, the best thing to do is just listen.
When we think about it, this makes sense. Think of someone in your life who you would consider a good listener. Do you love this person? Do you respect this person? All of us want to feel heard. It’s what makes us feel validated. It shows us that people care. Becoming a better listener not only helps you become a better friend, but also a better leader.
Listening is a skill that takes diligence and practice. The truth of the matter is that many of us aren’t very good listeners. While we spend more time listening to others than utilizing any other type of communication, listening tends to be a vital part of communication that we often overlook. Really good listening requires that we are attentive, patient, responsive, and understanding. When we can do all of these things effectively, then we are better able to decipher meaning, respond effectively, build trust, develop positive relationships, and serve others.
There are a few things that hinder our listening skills. First, we have trained ourselves to become mindless listeners. We are constantly bombarded by information and messages throughout our day that we have unconsciously developed filtering processes. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We cannot give every message we receive every ounce of our attention – it would be exhausting. We just need to be aware of when we need to take a more active listening approach, like when your friend is telling you about a conflict or when that person you sit next to in class seems to be having a difficult day.
Second, there are a million little distractions that can steal our attention. Besides obvious, literal distractions like noise or interruptions, we may also create distractions ourselves. Our own experiences may interfere with or overtake our thoughts. This can inhibit us from listening to the other person’s actual needs. Or perhaps, we’re too focused on what to say next. We get so focused on crafting our own perfect response that we fail to truly understand or process what others are saying.
While listening can be difficult because of these factors, the good news is that we can all become better listeners! We just have to be intentional about how we do so. Try these tips as a way to get started:
- Practice good eye contact. It shows that you are engaged.
- Be conscious of your body posture. Try to avoid crossing your arms – even something as simple as this can look like a barrier. You can even nod to demonstrate that you are receiving their message.
- Observe non-verbal cues. Does their posture match the tone of their words?
- Use silence effectively! Sometimes there isn’t anything you can say to make it better; simply just being there shows you care.
- Paraphrase what you heard to ensure you understood it correctly. For example, “what I’m hearing you say is…, right?”
- Not sure if you should offer advice? Just ask! Maybe they do want to hear your opinion, but maybe they just want to listen. Asking never hurts.
People just want to be heard. Listening in itself can be therapeutic. Not only does listening demonstrate care, but it allows you to understand what people really need. By paying attention to the little details, we can begin to understand where others are coming from. This can help us become more perceptive, empathetic, intentional and attune individuals and leaders.
Leading sound expert, Julian Treasure suggests learning to listen through different filters called “listening positions” as a way to begin to listen better. He proposes 6 different filters:
Active | Passive
Critical | Empathetic
Reductive | Expansive
Treasure encourages actively trying to turn on these different filters in specific situations so that we can listen most effectively and with the right intention. He defines the filters as follows:
Active | this type of listening takes work and effort and deliberate attention. We are fully present and engaged in the process when we are actively listening.
Passive | this type of listening does not require any interaction or response from the listener.
Critical | when we listen from a critical position we are listening to evaluate or assess the message we are receiving.
Empathetic | when we listen from an empathetic position we are listening with the intent to support feelings, demonstrate care, or communicate value.
Reductive | we listen with a reductive filter when we are listening for a specific point or solution
Expansive | we listen with an expansive filter when we are listening with someone and enjoying the journey of the conversation.
Consider these reflection questions before you try positioning yourself:
- When should we use each of these types of listening? What situations or kinds of communication?
- Think of the last time you had to listen, what listening positions did you use? Would any other positions have been helpful to you? Why or why not?
- Which type(s) of listening are your strengths? How do they help you?
- Which type(s) of listening do you need to develop or practice more? Why would that be important?
- What is one commitment you can make to help you work to listen more effectively in the future?
*Meet the Author*
Caroline is a senior in college who loves dogs, the beach, sunshine, and traveling!