Can you hear me?
How often do you listen? Really, really listen?
How often do you get an unexpected answer a question. And my patience is often lost when other person didn’t listen to what I was saying. It happens to us all. And we’re all probably as guilty as the next person. We listen to the first thing being said and then start thinking of our response before the person has finished.
Or worse, someone interrupts before you’re finished and starts telling you what you think WITH “oh, you mean….”
Firstly, let’s not beat ourselves up about this. There’s an inbuilt part of being human that means we want to belong to a group. So, when someone says something, such as “I’ve had a bad day,” our brains automatically start scanning our memory of the day to find ways that our day has been “bad” so that we can show what we all have in common. However, we can also miss big bits of the story the other person is relating to us. We end up asking questions that have already been answered or, more irritating, launch immediately into how bad our day has been without giving the other person any empathy or acknowledgement of their situation.
This may all be ok in a social setting – over coffee or at the pub. However, in more difficult times, especially as we live through a pandemic, one of the most precious gifts we can give to someone is that they are being heard.
OK, the cliché – we have TWO ears and ONE mouth and should use them in that ratio. But it isn’t always that easy. We’ve had years of practise of doing what everyone else does. Respond to what we think the person is saying, rather than hearing it first.
So, what can we do?
Well, firstly, try not to talk. Simple. Keep our mouths closed – sit on our hands if needs be and send a signal to the other person that we are listening to them. When we want to let that person know that we’re about to talk, let our mouth open a little. Their subconscious should pick up the signal that we are ready to respond.
It is hard, but practise and concentration will help. What is more difficult is when we simply don’t agree with the other person. We need to keep an open mind. After all, we want them to listen to us with a degree of respect, so we need do the same for them. Beyond just keeping our mouths closed, we need to keep our mind open. Simply listening to something that we disagree with, isn’t really listening. We want to understand where that person is coming from, how they feel the way they do and what the origin of their argument is. We might find that we can empathise with them, even if we don’t agree. Or we may change your mind – or have the information we need to change theirs! But we won’t know whether we can or not unless we’ve really listened in the first place.
When trying to help a friend, try to remember that they are the focus of the conversation. How often do we try to explore our feelings with someone only to end up listening to their experiences? They’re telling you to make you feel better – but it just doesn’t work! We want to let out how we feel, but it’s being blocked by their outpourings. Give others the chance to air their feelings and we learn more about them as a vulnerable human being – just like everyone else. And we learn more about ourselves – our ability to care and support friends.
So, next time you have a conversation with someone, remember to really listen before interrupting or putting your own slant what is being said. And expect that the other person will give you the same respect back that you have given to them.