Have you ever spoken to a child and, as they talk, they have a long pause between words or ideas?
I’ve seen two main reactions to this. One, there’s an impatience that happens. Either for the kid to finish up because you know what they are going to say anyway, you want to quit being interrupted, or you just don’t care that much.
Then there’s the second reaction, where someone waits patiently, perhaps even finding the beauty of watching the child form the words and share their thoughts.
There are days when I fall into the first reaction. Usually when I am on a tight schedule and I need to be somewhere. But I do my best to give the second response. We all want to be heard. We all want to finish our thoughts and not be talked over. Kids included… or maybe kids especially.
I find talking to children to be a great opportunity to practice the art of listening. It’s what they want. It’s what they need. Particularly teenagers. They don’t want you to fix their problems or give them advice. They just want you to listen. In fact, I literally have written in my goal-oriented planner “Listening is better than talking.”
The art of listening has impacted me tremendously. Not just doing the listening, but to have people in my life who hear me. Everyone needs a turn to be heard. I have a friend who is excellent at listening and it is noticing how she always listens that I realized I did most of the talking! Oops. So, I decided to be quiet more and, in the process, I find our relationship to be even better because now she has an opportunity to be open and heard, allowing there to be a flow both ways. This experience is just one that has illustrated to me the benefits of practicing the art of listening. So, I decided I’d share some of the benefits I have noticed over the years.
Benefits of listening:
- Gain patience. Like with the example of kids above or even with adults. Not rushing in but instead making sure they have finished their thought can often take some patience.
- Going hand in hand with that. Getting comfortable with silence. Allowing someone to take a moment with their thoughts and then continue allows you this opportunity. And getting comfortable with silence when with someone transfers to being comfortable with silence when alone. And often that silence can bring a spring of creativity.
- Knowledge! There are a lot of people around us and we can learn from their experiences. Asking questions is one of the best listening skills. Ask. Ask. Someone willing to listen to another is invaluable to most people and brings a likeability toward you to boot – which is a bonus! You gain insight that you might not otherwise receive.
- An opportunity to practice empathy. You don’t have to agree with what someone is saying to do this either. You just need to let them know that you understand they are feeling a certain way.
- Observe! Particularly in a group. Man, you can home* in your observation skills when you stop talking and start listening. Which, as a writer, is huge.
- I mentioned it already, but it bears mentioning again.
- It is why the likability is a factor. When you are willing to listen, it brings an opportunity to connect with someone on a deeper level.
- With that, when you are genuinely hearing someone, and it is time to respond you can allow a pause and ponder yourself before generating a response. They might talk to fill the silence if they can’t stand it but pausing and then answering will show that you sincerely care about what they had to say. And, it shows you weren’t just waiting for them to be quiet so you could talk.
- Builds your self-respect. Not having to be the center of attention, being comfortable with silence, and looking out for others helps facilitate self-respect.
Now that we’ve covered some benefits. Let me share with you a few tricks to help you get into the habit of listening.
Practice in a group setting. Remind yourself before you leave that you aren’t going to jump in with your story or comment first.
Pay attention to the group. Has someone started a story but keeps getting derailed because everyone else is chiming in. Bring it back to that person and ask them a question relevant to the topic. Even saying to the group, “Wait SoandSo didn’t finish. Go ahead.” That sort of encouragement is awesome and once again shows you are paying attention and ready to listen!
I’m going to say it again. Ask questions! Over and over. Even prepare some ahead of time. Did one of your friends mention going to a movie? Ask them how it was. Did they mention going on a date, or did a pet die, or are they having trouble with a relative, or got a promotion at work? Ask them about it! But you can only ask them IF you are already making effort to remember the things going on in their life. Which is what a good friend does. So, pay attention – listen! – and ask for updates! Then listen some more.
Now, all this listening doesn’t mean you aren’t participating. In fact, it shows you are actively engaged, and can respond and share as well! But you’ll have a better idea of when, how, and what to respond with. If you think you are doing great with listening, then awesome. But if you aren’t sure, ask yourself one of these questions.
When my kid/colleague/friend came to talk to me, did I just give advice/lecture/start talking about myself?
Do I talk over people?
Last time I went out what did other people talk about? If you can only remember what you shared or how other people responded to what you said, then maybe consider taking a step back and letting others have a turn in the spotlight.
When someone is talking to me, do I look at my phone? Or give my entire attention? Do I look them in the eye, nod, and give those physical signs that I am present?
I do want to make a special note about listening to those you live with.
Family members need your attention and that listening ear. When a spouse/partner or kids come home be prepared to hear all about them FIRST. Or even a house mate! Let them get it out. Ask those clarifying questions and give some empathy.
At my house, that usually means my teenagers talk and then go do stuff. My youngest talks about his day and then double checks if I’m busy or if I can play games with him (yeah, he’s adorable and I do deliberately try and make sure I can play games a few times a week. Why? Because I listen and he’s telling me what he needs from me by that continual asking. The gaming isn’t about games, it’s about connection. Taking the information seriously is important.)
The husband, he gets to share is accomplishments, or his frustrations, or his plans for a project, etc.
All the tips I mentioned earlier, I use on my family. Even the preparing beforehand. Remembering that a kid has a test or an audition or was going to mention something important to a friend, or give a gift to a teacher, etc. Ask questions about how things went or how they felt in the moment. Show interest. Give empathy when it is a tough day. And when they interrupt each other, go back and make sure your family members get to finish their stories.
Now, here’s the hope I have for all of you. That you have a spouse or kids or a housemate, who then asks you how your day has been. Listening to others can be a lot easier when you know you’ll get a chance to share because there are days when YOU need a listening ear. A rant. An applause for a job well done. A moment to feel valued, just like you’ve provided for them.
Listening is a gift you are giving. If you take care of yourself (a topic for another day), you are better equipped to take the time and energy to really hear the people around you. Watch the difference it makes with those in your circle. You won’t be disappointed.
*Yes, “home” is correct here. You “home in” your abilities not “hone in.” But “hone in” has been used so often that most people think you are incorrect when using “home.”