It can be quite painful to realize that you need to grow. That happened to me recently. A friend of mine said she needed to talk with me. She told me she felt hurt by something I had done. As she spoke, I found myself struggling to stay quiet and hear her. I wanted to defend myself, to convince her that her interpretation of my words and actions was “wrong.”
That conversation was a wake-up call. It showed me that I need to improve my listening skills. A Cuban proverb says it right, “Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.” As my friend was speaking, my head was at work, very busy, generating my own world of meaning to counter the views she was expressing.
Most of us can relate to the feeling of being with someone in body while our mind travels to a totally different place. If we are honest, we will admit that when others talk we often feel bored, trapped, or even threatened. What are you thinking about when the other person is speaking? Do you ever review your to-do list? Are you analyzing and judging? Are you already framing the next comment you want to make? This mental activity keeps us from deeply hearing what the other person is seeking to share.
Each of us longs to be truly heard, deeply understood, and respected, even—perhaps especially—when our views contrast with those of the listener. In fact, our desire to be seen and heard as persons of value is a basic human need.
Don’t underestimate the power of sincere listening. Is there someone in your life who has listened to you express your feelings as you worked through a personal crisis? If so, you know that having a sounding board is invaluable.
Here are three ways to determine if your listening skills need improvement.
- Can you ever quiet your mind fully (even for a minute or two)? Your challenge is to spend at least a minute or two each day in silence. Focus on your breath. Simply notice your mental chatter. Let the thoughts pass through your mind. Return your focus to your breath. First practice this silence on your own. Then, when you find yourself in conversation, practice silence again. Quiet your mind and choose to focus on the other person’s words. Let your own thoughts pass by.
- Are you able to stay focused while someone is talking to you or does your mental activity take over? Just notice. Don’t judge yourself. Become aware of the opportunity you have to grow your listening skills. Set a daily intention: I desire to become an attentive listener.
- How many times did you truly listen today? To increase your self-awareness, get honest. Do a daily listening review each evening. How many times were you bored or uneasy? How many times did your mind take over? If your mind took over, where did it go? Here are some possibilities: To your own activities? To the past? To a criticism of the other person? To self-defense? Let this practice of detached self-evaluation help you grow.
Developing good listening skills requires focus and practice. It also takes courage. As Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Will you have the courage to do sit down and truly listen this week?
Patricia Omoqui, The Thought Dr.TM, is an executive coach and business consultant, the author of Clarify Your Purpose and Live It! She is sought after as an inspirational speaker, life coach and corporate/civil service trainer. She calls herself Naija Oyinbo. Connect on FB: Patricia Omoqui ThoughtDr or Twitter: @patriciaomoqui. Visit http://www.patriciaomoqui.com