When Mary and I were very young, she had a very challenging job. She would come home and pour out her heart about:
• How difficult a child was...
• Or how challenging a parent was...
• Or how the principal wasn’t there for her.
But while she was talking, I WASN'T really listening!
I was forming solutions in my mind; so when she finished, I would tell her what they were.
Again, we were very young.
But as I told her my solutions, her eyes became cold. And the longer I advised her, the more cold they became. Finally she would exclaim, “Steve…I don’t need your advice. I KNOW what to do! I need you to listen! What I need is your heart!"
I had to learn that more than once!
But now…with social distancing in place…we have been given the time to learn how to really listen to those we love. What an opportunity! And if there was ever a time we need to listen to each other, it is now.
And yet, according to a Harvard Business Review Study, we don’t really know how. In fact, we only remember about half of what we hear
The basic problem is that we think far faster than we hear! We speak about 125 words per minute; far slower than the human brain, which is made up of more than 83 billion neurons. And the way these neurons operate makes the great, modern digital computers seem slow-witted.
So to phrase it another way, we can listen and still have a lot of time for thinking.
This is especially true because while I am talking to you with words, I am talking to myself with pictures and feelings. So when I first saw the Yosemite Valley, it would have taken endless words to describe what I felt and saw as I gazed at that beautiful valley..
So much of our listening isn’t really listening.
Instead of paying attention to what the other person is saying, we are already thinking about what WE are going to say. Of course it’s great to have a well-thought-out reply, but if you’re thinking about what you want to say instead of hearing what the other person is saying, you aren’t really listening. And you’re not really connecting with the other person.
So there are some components to Active Listening.
• Pay attention. When someone is talking to you, look at them. Notice their eye contact and body language. Take in their tone of voice as well as what they are actually saying. Really listen.
• Listen with your body. Turn toward the person who is talking, lean in and make them feel listened to because you really are listening. Make eye contact, smile, nod and make leading noises (“Uh-huh,” “Really?” “Go on,” etc.) when appropriate.
• Don’t interrupt. The best way to make someone feel like they are not being heard is to interrupt them. Listen fully and wait until they are done.
• Respond to what they said. Be honest and respectful in your responses, and remember to talk — and listen — in the ways that you would want to be talked or listened to.
Part of the New Normal
Let’s face it, dear reader, we are now stuck with each other!
What an opportunity to learn how to listen to each other again.
However, becoming an active listener really does take practice. You won’t be perfect at this overnight, or maybe never, but you can start working on better listening today and every day to put these ideals into practice.
Here are some steps:
1. Put down your iPhone!
2. Look them in the eye! The eyes are the only visible part of our nervous system. (This is why we feel hurt when someone looks away while we are talking to them.) They are sharing their feelings with you! Let’s face it! When you are talking to someone, you are sharing your feelings and your heart with them. And dear listener, we are not thinking people who feel, we are feeling people who think!
3. Respond by repeating. This classic therapy move really does make people feel heard and understood and it is a good trick to use with anyone in any situation.
4. Listening is no time for judging. THAT CAN COME LATER! Active listening means that we are withholding our personal thoughts and feelings; unless they are requested.
5. Unless they specifically ask for advice, DON’T GIVE IT. Your loved ones and friends simply want to be heard during this challenging time. They don’t want you to try to fix everything.
All of this is a process, but we now have a wonderful opportunity to help those who are living with us feel more supported and understood.
And they will definitely like you more as you listen to them.
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent.” His seminar “Taming Your Mind, Unleashing Your Life” is now available on line at stevenrcampbell.teachable.com. For more information, call Steven Campbell at 707-480-5507.