How many times have you asked yourself the question “is anybody listening?” It can be a desperate cry to see if anybody cares enough to listen–especially when it’s a very personal issue. When you really listen, you open your heart up to the other person. You show you care enough about what they have to say to give them your full attention. But how often does that happen?
How it feels when you’re not listened to
I was pouring my heart out on the phone to a friend one day when she suddenly started going into great detail about this pretty bird that was sitting on her fountain. I was being so vulnerable and it felt like a stab to the heart. I didn’t say anything, but I remember thinking “wow, what’s important to me must be boring to her.” It was an emotional blow and after that I started holding back from her to protect myself from rejection. I’m sure you’ve experienced similar situations.
What about the huge distractor of all time–you’re talking and someone is looking at their cell phone. It’s like a silent slap in the face. So you say to yourself–”it’s obvious that what they’re seeing on that inanimate object is so much more interesting than what I have to say.” It’s painful and causes real damage to many relationships.
There’s something called “phubbing” now, instead of snubbing, and it means when someone chooses the distraction of a cell phone over a conversation with you. An interesting article called : Could Your Cell Phone Be Ruining Your Life? mentions a study from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business on “phubbing” and how it causes conflict, dissatisfaction and even depression in relationships.
I learned how to be a good listener as a facilitator for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 5, Empathic Listening, states: “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” So you must first listen with the intent to understand the other person’s perspective to gain their trust and respect. It doesn’t mean you have to agree or disagree, or try and fix them. When you extend the courtesy of active listening, you have a better chance of them listening and understanding you.
Ways you listen when you’re not really listening
Habit 5 was hands down the most difficult habit to teach, because, as Stephen R. Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says, you are inclined to listen autobiographically. This happens when someone comes to you with a problem, and instead of focusing on them you ask questions from your perspective, sympathize, analyze or try to solve their problem.
Now, you may be thinking “what the heck is wrong with that?” I do that all the time and it works for me. People come to me for my advice and problem solving skills.” And my answer is it’s perfectly fine if it’s a normal conversation, you have a good relationship and the person is not upset. But if someone needs to talk – they have a concern about work, school, in these COVID times it might be about losing a job, or an issue with their kids or a spouse, that is when listening to understand is essential.
Listen or your tongue will make you deaf – Native American Proverb
Autobiographical questions are just what they state. They are about you. You start out listening to someone and then “ hijack their story” and make it about you. That’s when you question, analyze, sympathize and advise. Those are ways you listen when you’re not really listening.
Why is it so hard to understand how to listen?
It’s not hard, but sometimes you are afraid to listen to someone else’s perspective or feelings because you risk becoming vulnerable. You may realize that you’re wrong and you’ll have to admit it. You may have to change a long held belief and you don’t want to. Active listening requires humility and many times that makes us feel very uncomfortable. But it is an opportunity to learn something new about the person and about yourself. It is one of the best ways to create trust and build lasting relationships.
So how can you be a better listener?
You need to figure out when someone truly needs your attention. Then, make sure you put away anything that could distract you (like a cell phone). Find a place to talk where you won’t be disturbed. Focus on your intention to understand. If your mind starts to wander, just bring it back to the intention of understanding. This is not always easy, especially if the conversation is emotionally charged. Sometimes, you have to take a break to calm down and come back to the conversation later. Whatever the case, just focus on understanding.
You may have to ask questions to clarify what someone is saying, but make sure those questions have to do with that person’s story. Remember, don’t be a conversation hijacker.
Here is an awesome quote on listening:
When I ask you to listen and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as it may seem. Listen! All I ask is that you listen; not talk or do—just hear me. –-Ralph Roughton, M.D.
Learning to listen is a life-long process and the greatest form of respect you can give another person. When you truly understand someone else, you create a trusted space and you will also be able to seek to be understood. Your relationships will thrive because they will be based on respect and mutual understanding.
If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”—Winnie-the-Pooh
So take that fluff out of your ears and start listening. If you ever get the chance to take the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, do it! Check to see if your organization offers it. It is a life changing workshop and you’ll learn so much more about “seeking first to understand and then to be understood.” You can also read the book which is still extremely popular, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Make sure the important people in your life are not screaming: “is anybody listening?”
Happy listening to understand. Stay with it. You will stumble and fall, but get yourself back up and keep going.
I’d love it if you shared a story when someone really listened to you and it made a difference for the better in the relationship. Leave a comment below or email me.
See you next week!