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How I Learnt To Become A Better Person By Learning Active Listening Skills

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

by Joy Ng |

It was a Saturday night, my friend and I was having supper at our local mamak. He began to talk about his insecurities, recent unemployment, and challenges in maintaining his long-distance relationship. Tears filled the corner of his eyes.

Caught off guard, I scrambled through my mental vault of vocabulary, in search of the right words to say. In attempts to cheer him up, I started sharing my past experiences and assured him “I survived it, so you have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

He smiled, “Yeah, I guess it's pretty trivial,”, wiping the tears and swiftly diverted the conversation away, a disappointed expression on his face.

Taken aback by the response, I tried to maintain the conversation. But there, I lost the moment. The conversation stayed dry, and that’s the last he’s ever shared his concerns with me. I drove home, wondering what went wrong.

The fact of the matter is, as humans we thrive in relationships; our needs for connectivity and belonging is innate to our nature. Meaningful connections improve our well-being and provide greater satisfaction. In my series of reflections, I realized that one of the key components to deep connection is Active Listening.

Active Listening simply means an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen to and understand the messages of the speaker. It is a valuable asset to have as it has increasingly become a lost art.

Here, I’ll share my journey and growth as I practised active listening.

1. Non-verbals, they speak volumes

Instead of my usual fidgeting, I maintained eye contact, gave head nods and refrained from being distracted by passersby. As my body language sends the message that I am interested, they began to open up even more.

I have a new self-awareness that my projected image and how I present myself matters. Body language doesn’t lie and my outward actions will always reflect my inward motives; and knowing that, I’ve become more genuine and intentional ever since.

2. Listen to understand, not to reply

While the other is still speaking, I find myself eagerly forming words in my mind in nervous attempts to minimize potential awkward silences. It then dawned upon me that I have been so engrossed in my thoughts, I wasn’t listening to them. I couldn’t fully understand my friend, their emotions, thought processes and the context of the whole story.

The lesson learnt here is to be present at the moment and devote my full attention to them. When I listened, I started viewing life from a different perspective, understanding how it feels to be in another’s shoes and to have others' insights enrich mine. My views are tainted by the lens of my past experiences, and it is not always the truth. Listening to them helps get my reality checked, challenges my critical thinking and opens up my mind.

3. Silence your inner fixer

“Wait what? They don’t necessarily need my advice? But I wanna help! I was in the same predicament, I want to get her out of it.” Does it ring a bell?

Our intentions can be good, but food for thought, is this the help that they need?

I believe advice is important, but they come in later in the sequence. When we begin to share our own story, the spotlight shifts from them to us.

This was particularly hard for me. Much self-control was exerted to relinquish my desire to ‘fix their problems’. Right now, they need my love more than my “wisdom”. I don’t have to be a know it all, I am to be a friend. Which is of more importance? Satisfying my inner pride that screams ‘I have all the answers!’, or my friends receiving the healing needed? No competition there.

4. Empathize and validate

This was enlightening for me as a facilitator with a team under my leadership. The uniqueness of our psychological makeup is influenced by our personality, environment, culture, etc. So the same situation may have varying emotional impacts on individuals; and while I do not have to agree with the subject, I definitely can take an empathetic stand.

It can be as simple as a reassuring “I understand that you feel that way.” Once their feelings are validated, they often become more open to accept whatever ‘truth’ you have to offer them. This allowed boundaries-setting and communication in work to be more effective. My leadership influence grew when members trusted that before I guide, I listen, understand, and respect.

5. Ask the right questions

Ask open questions about their subject. “How do you interpret or feel about this?” This helps them to search their thoughts, uncover hidden reasoning and reach clarifications on their end. Mutual affinity deepens, misunderstanding is minimized and the connection is achieved. Great communication is the key to effective leadership.

As I journeyed further, I’ve learnt to be a better caregiver and leader. My team members have greater trust and willingness to open up to me. I grew to be more selfless, my happiness increased, the horizons of my mind widened, and my relationships were enhanced. This confidence overflowed to other aspects of my life and flourished.

At the end of the day, it's affirming to hear “It’s been so fruitful sharing it to you”.

Yes, it seems at first that diverting the attention from yourself to someone else is against our nature, but the fruits are extremely rewarding and liberating. When someone comes to me, I remind myself, “Hey Joy, be the person you needed when you were younger.”

Undeniably, one of the aspects of becoming a better person is to equip ourselves with more skillsets, in which listening is a powerful one. It ultimately comes down to using those gifts to be a blessing, serving the community, and giving of one‘s self for another.

Finally, life is a series of ebbs and flows. One day, the same love that you give, will flow back to you. When there comes a time that you’re in need, you’ll turn around and find your healthy community ready to give back to you.

You can learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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