The Art of Listening

Proverbs 2:2 – “Let your ears listen to wisdom. Apply your heart to understanding.”
Proverbs 8:1 – “Listen as Wisdom calls out! Hear as understanding raises her voice!”
Proverbs 12:15 – “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.”
Proverbs 15:31 – “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.”

No wonder listening is an undervalued art. Research shows that we speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute, yet we have the capacity to listen to approximately 400 words per minute. So what are we doing with that extra space in our minds when someone else is talking? Are we really listening?

Listening is essential to emotional health fulfilling relationships. If you are experiencing challenging interactions or want your connections to deepen – study and reflect on how to improve listening your skills. The benefits? Consider the following:

  • People will feel be more drawn to us; we will feel “safe” to others.
  • We will learn something new.
  • We will solve problems more effectively.
  • We will experience less loneliness and frustration.
  • We will feel more joyful and relaxed.

Learn to listen well, and watch you relationships begin to thrive. Here’s some thoughts.

1. Pay attention
Since our brains have the capacity to process 275 more words per minute than are actually spoken, we tend to fill up the void with extraneous thoughts. Notice how when someone is speaking, you are partially listening, while simultaneously planning the rest of your day, replaying a meeting that just occurred, or deciding what you will say next. Paying attention is the foremost guideleine for good listening. Hear the words, and let their meaning in. If your mind begins to wander, simply re-focus your attention on the conversation.

2. Be receptive
If you show up with an agenda, you are not going to be available to fully hear what the other person is saying. There is no problem with having goals for an interaction, but let them go while the other person is speaking so you can hear what is being expressed. Balance your need for a given outcome with your desire to sustain a harmonious relationship.

3. Check your understanding
Make sure you can repeat what you just heard, and if you can’t, ask for clarification. You might be surprised at how much you are missing. Most people are. When you think you’ve gotten it, you might say, “So what you are saying is….” to verify your understanding.

4. Be an explorer
Explorers are open and curious. They are inquisitive, without knowing what they will find. So what do you do with all of that excess brainpower? Focus on the speaker. Notice body language, tone of voice, and rate of speaking. Then look beneath the words to see what feelings and needs are being communicated. You never know what you might find.

5. Show interest
If you find yourself bored and distracted, reconnect with the interaction. Maintain eye contact, uncross your arms, and ask questions that take the conversation deeper. Find out what really matters to the person you are speaking with.

7. Be patient
As much as you may be tempted, don’t speak over someone who is talking. When you feel the urge to step in, take a breath, let your agenda go, and continue to listen. If you need to move the conversation along, do so politely, as in, “Excuse me, I’m so sorry for interrupting, but…” Likewise, be careful not to jump to conclusions or assume you know what hasn’t yet been said. These are all signs that your inner explorer has fallen asleep. Revitalize your experience by paying attention to what is happening in the moment.

8. Get out of a rut
Have you ever had the same problematic conversation with someone over and over? Bring a fresh perspective to the relationship by redoubling your efforts to listen. Let go of your need to be right or your ideas about what the other person should be saying or doing, and hear them as if for the first time. This moves you from contraction and limit to possibility and potential simply by listening.

In the end, being in right relationships is more important than being right. Effective listening develops empathy, which is the capacity for a deep understanding of another’s experience. And isn’t that what it takes for a relationship to thrive? It’s as simple as paying attention.

The above was adapted from an article by Gail Brenner, Ph.D.

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