Meeting a friend over coffee, having an intense work meeting, sipping a tea with your partner after work…we’re called upon to listen all the time. As a teacher, it’s easy to feel like you spend half of your working day demanding that people listen to you, requesting people listen to your instructions, your wisdom, your point of view. But, be it a room full of teenagers, your best friend or your husband, listening, as much as talking, is an essential skill.
Active listening keeps cropping up in my life. We talk about it in education sometimes. Listen to me, the instructions, each other. Yes, and then you can talk about it, but listen first, please. A number of discussions lately about listening got me thinking. Am I a good listener? Am I an active listener? What on Earth is an active listener?
Disappointingly, after a lot of thinking and reading, I realised that I was not a very good listener. Not because I am particularly rude or disrespectful, but because of a number of false assumptions about listening.
Listening, previously, meant being ready to respond. Hearing by scanning what’s being said, ready to have an opinion, a word of advice or even a solution. Listening to a friend’s problems meant having an answer. Listening to your colleague meant making sure you were ready with a backed-up opinion of your own.Listening was about reacting, Listening was about what I said back.
Well, I’ve since gone through a listening revolution, and, not only has it made me a better listener, it has made me less socially anxious. Win win.
To really listen, you have to take yourself out of the equation. You have to stop worrying about what your response will be by focussing on what you’re hearing, not what you’re about to say back. Try it. As a result you hear so much more. You hear word choices, tones, emissions and emotions. Active listening focusses on what is being said, not what is being heard. It means giving your attention to the conversation. if you’re worrying about what you’re going to say back, you’re not hearing what is really being said and are more likely to say something that you didn’t mean to say. (I think, I am no scientist, psychologist, and etc., this just makes sense to me.)
Personally, I am finding that I am more able to respond, more comfortable not being able to respond, and more engaged with the person I’m talking. I have tried to stop listening in order to get the ‘right’ answer and start listening simple to listen.