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“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as being heard…”

This post is about just listening – don’t talk, don’t comment, don’t jump in to giving them a solution, and definitely don’t counter their story with one of yours.

Just listen – I know it sounds simple but it’s quite hard… agree or disagree? read on…

When was the last time you were truly listened to? How did that make you feel? Or when was the last time you truly listened to another?

For most of us, the answer will be “not often enough.” Despite knowing the importance of listening, we somehow overlook its importance as we move through the schedule of our busy days. Yet because it’s in listening that the richness of communication gathers its strength, this should be a daily priority.

The reality is “A lot of people find it very difficult to just listen. Sit in front of somebody you are on the other end of a call or chat and just let the other person talk /share/rant/ vent. I am guilty of this too.”

My instincts would kick the minute somebody shares the problem of the as I would jump and with a possible solution for a list of suggestions they could do to tide over the current situation.

It took me a while to understand that people just want to talk, want somebody at the other, and to hear them out.. Sometimes they even know the solution or a possible way out, so that’s not what they want to hear.. so all you have to do is just listen.

Why is it so hard to just listen? I guess humans are wired to offer a solution without thinking twice. Our brains are also wired to constantly run and come up with responses [sometimes even while the other person is still talking or sharing], which is why a lot of people cannot just listen or rather they listen to respond and not listen for the sake of listening.

I was chatting with this guy (wouldn’t really call it dating, and it was over a decade ago) and we would have these conversations – in the morning and evening almost daily. One day he mentioned having a bad cold- while I had kind of mastered the art of listening or rather I thought I had, I instinctively responded with a ‘have you taken a pill or want to try steam’. He went silent for a few seconds and then said ‘i know what to do/ I am not telling you I have a cold because I need suggestions/remedy, I am just telling you cos you are somebody that I feel free to share these things with.’ This was pretty much a turning point in my life and from there on unless somebody asked for the suggestion or unless my brain had switched off and the other old me kicked in, I did not respond in haste (not that very instant at least).

Listen to listen and not to respond –  Yes, listening is an art, doesn’t come easy for a lot of people because they are constantly thinking of what to say, sometimes even 1 up the others with some incident they have been through. While it is fine to share one of your own stories with another person, it will leave the other person feeling like their current situation does not matter to you or is irrelevant. You are basically telling the other person “listen, I’ve been through worse than you have been through some time back… this is what I did…this is what I didn’t do.. so just try this, that, or stop whining. You might not intend for them to think so, but that is how the other person might end feeling. They might hesitate to share with you next time around cos of this experience. You are being unfair to the other person who has trusted you enough to confide/come to you for support.

Give them undivided attention: It’s tempting to multi-task, but being there in the moment, focussing on what the other person is saying is the best thing you can do for them. Put your phone/laptop/kindle/other devices away, at least for a specific time period ~ 30 to 40mins. What applies to official meetings should apply to such situations as well. Check your gadget once they are done.

Next time somebody reaches out to you, press the pause button in your brain and tell yourself, ‘it’s ok I will switch off and I will just pay complete attention to what the other person is saying and I will not react or interrupt them while they are sharing’. When they are done sharing and if/when they ask you for suggestions or advice that is only when you will share/offer suggestions, otherwise you simply smile or give them a hug or just be there for them. Don’t ever shrug them off, don’t ever tell them these are small petty things and not be stressing about them. And if it is a positive, joyful message, rejoice and be happy for them.

Go on, try it…

It might seem hard, it might seem difficult, you might have to bite your tongue and literally clasp your mouth shut, but you gotta get there. Put yourself in their shoes, and think about what you would want the other person to say/do. Being at the receiving end is always a different experience than being at the Giving end right?

An interesting video on Listening  .. 

Let me know if you are the kind to “just listen” and how you make yourself “heard”.