On the surface, that is an easy question to answer. We all talk. And talk, and talk. Sometimes, we actually have conversations, and other times, whatever we say falls on deaf ears. On a deeper level, what results from being unheard or misunderstood are feelings of devaluation, our self-esteem and confidence fall, we lose trust, and while we're licking our wounds, we are also then guilty of not listening.
A good conversation with listening is priceless. Heard, you feel valued, empowered, confident, and able to see new possibilities and potential. How far does the imagination have to stretch to envision a life where you listen and are listened to?
Listening is a skill. It is something that can be learned. And, as you go around listening to others, they start listening back. It spreads! You'll also find you do a good bit of the "do" list and not so much of the "don't" list already. A little bit of focus and monitoring and listening will become natural.
Blocks to Listening (Don't)
First is a list of 12 blocks to listening. Try to honestly think about these to see which ones you've used before. They are pretty natural to fall into, and just a little awareness goes a long way in keeping them in check. (I've done a bit of mind reading and placating myself.)
Comparing - While the person is speaking, you're trying to figure out which of you is better, has more or does less in any way imaginable.
Mind Reading - Assuming you already know what the person is going to say while ignoring him/her and without bothering to ask questions to confirm your belief.
Rehearsing - No way to hear when you are practicing your next lines in your head.
Filtering - The only thing you're going to hear is what you want to hear, nothing else.
Judging - You've already determined that the person speaking has no value for you, so you don't bother to pay attention to what he/she says.
Dreaming - Something half heard sends you off into your own little world to think about a similar aspect in your own life.
Identifying - As someone shares an experience, you relate it back to your own life.
Advising - Before someone can explain, you are offering advice. You completely miss the point, the feelings and the scope, and leave the person feeling misunderstood.
Sparring - You listen, but only for something to disagree with, argue over or debate.
Being Right - You will rationalize, make excuses, shout or accuse the speaker of anything you can think of just to avoid being wrong.
Derailing - Bored or uncomfortable about what is said, you change the subject.
Placating - No matter what is said, you agree. You listen just enough to catch the places where you can agree.
Effective Listening (Do)
Now, here is a short list of tips to effective or empathic listening. You probably already do a lot of these, especially when the person and the conversation are particularly interesting to you. See if you can 'catch' yourself using any of these. Then, see if you can use them at will. The goal: Make them habit.
Acknowledge the speaker by being attentive, genuinely interested, alert and positive. Be in the moment and focused.
Show you are listening with "uh-huh", nod your head, lean forward in a relaxed way, make frequent eye contact, and invite more to explore with open-ended questions.
Be a sounding board and a mirror by restating what is said in your own words. Let the speaker dominate the conversation.
Reflect back what you understand and how you think the speaker feels. Listen for the person's positive intention or "hope" to respond to and support.