When was the last time you really listened to someone? And when was the last time you really felt heard? Did you know that “being heard” is considered a basic human need? And yet I often have clients tell me they are not getting that need met in their relationships at home, as well as at work, and it’s not for lack of talking.
One of the main things that complicates this problem is the definition of the word listen. So often while one person is talking the person who should be listening is in actuality waiting for their turn to speak – and this includes all of the mental activity that goes along with that waiting game, including planning what to say when it is (finally!) their turn.
There are some telltale signs of someone who is truly a good listener and is practicing active listening. One of them is the ability to process what they’ve just heard AFTER they’ve heard it. Depending on the speed of the processor this sometimes produces a pause between the listening and the responding. This is a pause that feels very unnatural and uncomfortable for some. In our media driven culture we are not used to that pause. In fact, in radio it is called “dead air” and it is a sin!! We have trouble staying relaxed in the face of silence and try to prevent this uncomfortable pause by being ready to reply as quickly as possible. The problem here is that when we are planning our reply at the same time that our partner in conversation is speaking we are not really fully listening, instead we are waiting for our turn. So the real question here is, are you a good listener? Or, are you just a good waiter?
One thing you can do to facilitate active listening is to repeat back what you think you heard your partner say. Often you’ll be surprised that your interpretation missed the mark, and this gives the speaker a chance to clarify and the listener a chance to understand better. When it is your turn to speak you may also ask your listener to repeat back to you what they heard by asking them just that, “Can you tell me what you just heard me say?” Yes, this feels awkward at first, and the proof will be in the pudding, so to speak. When two people are understanding each other better they are communicating better, and better communication builds stronger relationships.
When I was attending classes at iPEC my relationship coaching instructor, Bonny O’Mullane, taught me something I’ll never forget: “Listening is so close to loving you can hardly tell the difference.”
Have you really listened to someone yet today?