Today, for as long as you can, practise listening.
Listening is a skill that so few of us are masters in showing. We listen with ears so tainted by our own thoughts, opinions and ideas. Is it no wonder that people don’t want to ‘open up’? How often have parents acted exasperated with their teenagers and the teenagers have replied, “You just don’t understand!”
Here are three suggestions, as to what you can do.
If we think this task is easy we’ve probably missed the point. Just listen means: I won’t judge, I won’t advise (unless asked for), I won’t ‘dig’, I won’t put my own interpretation on the situation and tell them what I would do if I was them.
Show you’ve heard what was said by the other person, sensitively.
Reflecting back in a ‘I-just-want-to-reflect-back-to-you-what-you’ve-said’ sort of way can come across that you are seeking to manipulate them even if that isn’t your intention. Showing you’ve heard what was said, in a non-threatening way, is tough. Generally, ‘How is that…’ or ‘What happened when…’ replies can help as well as reflecting back, as a statement, the perceived emotion of the words used by the person but this requires practice and experience because it is very easy to put your interpretation of the emotions of the event in words and not theirs. Be aware, too, of non-verbal communication, as best you can. Coming alongside someone, literally, can often help the person to feel safe to share what’s on their mind.
Remember, you have two ears and one mouth.
So, often it’s as if we have no ears and three mouths! If the other person feels safe and trusts that you will not judge them they will invariably ask for your opinion. If there’s an absence of feeling safe because they suspect an alternative agenda is at work then they won’t ‘open up’, let alone ask for your opinion, and the connection between you and them will be lost. And like any connection, once broken it takes a great deal of effort on both parties to re-establish.
If anything, act as if you have four ears and no mouth! Listen without feeling the need to speak. Just listen. And remember too that you have two eyes. Look for opportunities to connect by saying nothing that judges, probes, seeks to manipulate or receives your interpretation of events, as what you think they should do about it.
After all, it’s not about you, is it?