We all want to be better listeners. It’s a great skill to have and people like good listeners. But the sad fact is that while we want to be good listeners, we really want others to listen to us. We like to talk, and we want people to listen to us, because at the end of the day, it’s really all about us, right? Seriously, though, I am going to talk about listening. First of all, there’s hearing and there’s listening. I hear you but I don’t know what you said because I don’t really care. To truly listen and absorb meaning, you have to close down your brain to unruly activity and focus completely on the other person. This is the hard part, for this means it is about the other person, not you. When you truly listen, a wonderful things happens. You connect to another person in a very intimate and personal way. This is how relationships are built.
In stage one listening you ask your friend what they did on the weekend. Not because you care, but because you really want to turn the conversation to yourself. IN order to do that you have to appear to care by asking a question. This isn’t really listening since it’s all about you. Stage two listening involves actually having a conversation that includes give and take. “Oh, you went to a movie, what was it called? Wow, I have been meaning to see that, did you like it? Would you recommend I see it?” Stage two. They ask questions and get answers. In this type of listening the conversation remains on topic, but doesn’t go deep. There are no emotions involved.
At the next level we enter the realm of non-verbals and body language. “How was your weekend” you ask. The other person drops their head and sighs. “What’s wrong? Is everything OK?” You pick up on something in their tone and demeanor. Human emotions are present in this conversation. You are connecting. When you pick up the signals of human emotion, in the eyes, a shoulder shrug, or a smile, you have broken the code of humanity. This is where we want to be. At level three listening.
Unfortunately, we rarely achieve this. We misunderstand, we hear what we want to hear, and we interpret. Worse yet, we ignore signals and revert back to what is safe, to think about ourselves and our own world view. How can we achieve level three listening, where relationships are built and maintained? It takes a lot of work and patience. It requires us to go where we don’t want to go: to the aid to someone else, leaving our ego and our needs behind. But, if we are lucky, by listening, we can be heard.