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We live in a time of constant “communication.” Texting, emailing, tweeting, posting. We are always connected, always expressing our thoughts and sharing our lives. But are we really communicating?
"Active listening means that we shift that focus from ourselves to the other person."
For true communication to take place, it requires both a speaker and a listener. It sounds simple, yet a lack of listening is often a key contributor to our conflicts and disagreements. Just because we hear someone, it doesn’t mean that we are really listening to them.
What does it mean to really listen?
When someone comes to us with a problem or a complaint, we tend to think we are listening when they speak. After all, we are giving them our time and attention. But often, what we are really doing is thinking about our response. Before they’ve even finished talking, we are trying to decide what we will say next. We focus on how we feel and think, instead of trying to fully understand where they are coming from first.
Active listening means that we shift that focus from ourselves to the other person. Instead of thinking about what we agree or disagree with, we ask ourselves, “Why are they feeling this way? What is troubling them? What do they really need?” We try to put ourselves in their shoes to better comprehend their situation.
This goes beyond listening to their words; it’s straining to hear the emotions and desires behind them. So, when your spouse says, “You didn’t help me with dinner at all tonight, and you watched TV while I cleaned up the kitchen,” what they may really be saying is, “I don’t think that we’re evenly distributing the housework, and I don’t feel valued.”
Why is it so important?
Active listening is the key to solving disagreements, healing relationships, and preventing conflicts. It’s about connecting to people on a deep, personal level and trying to understand them. It’s about being open minded to their viewpoints and compassionate to their feelings.
Becoming a better listener also gives us a much broader view of things. We each see the world from our own unique perspective. Imagine how much more we can see together than we can on our own. By listening to each other, we gain insight into the bigger picture.
"We each see the world from our own unique perspective. Imagine how much more we can see together than we can on our own. By listening to each other, we gain insight into the bigger picture."
How do we become better listeners?
Active listening is really about sharing more with others - sharing our time, our attention, and our empathy. It means putting aside ourselves for someone else. It’s a commitment to finding solutions and solving disagreements. This isn’t easy, especially when you are in a heated debate with someone.
In school, we’re taught valuable skills like reading and writing, but we aren’t taught how to listen to each other. Like any other skill, practice makes perfect.
Set aside time to meditate, exercise, write, or just relax so that you can go into a discussion with clarity and the right frame of mind. Set your intentions before you begin speaking to someone. Vow to listen, learn, and relate before formulating your own thoughts. Don’t interrupt. Don’t assume you know what they are going to say. Focus on them, not yourself. Have patience and know that you will have a turn to speak as well.
We have busy, fast-paced lives. Our time and patience is limited. There is noise and distraction around us constantly. And we have our own problems, fears, and worries that consume our energy. It’s challenging to put aside all of these things and focus on someone else. But when we listen, we learn. By redefining the way we see communication and listening, we can improve our quality of life.