Why You Should Talk Less And Listen More
by Jananie Chandrarao |
“I honestly thought he was the one! And now he says he doesn’t love me anymore”. Well, Ashley, I remember warning you so many times about him. I told you, he was a player.
“All the promises and plans made. It just hurts so much right now.” Heartbreaks. Inevitable. I remember mine very clearly. I think things with Joe hurt more than Jason. Wait, did I like dating guys with names starting with ‘J’? Oh my god! Look at that hottie.
“I just wish I knew better, you know? I wish I never met him”. Oh yeah, Ashley. Ah did I like to space out? Oh poor thing, I feel so bad for her.
Admit it, we have all been there! We think we’re listening to our friend talk about her heartbreak, but are we really present throughout the conversation? This is indeed a classic example of how much we humans fail so miserably at active listening.
Often, what we misunderstand about listening is that we equate it to hearing, which is far from accurate. Hearing is just the ability to perceive sounds by detecting the vibrations of the surrounding medium using our ears. While listening, on the other hand, is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages during communication. Another misconception is that in order to be a great communicator, we only need to be a great speaker. As much as it’s true, listening is equally important as speaking for effective communication to take place.
Listening helps us better understand the situation
Listening is also incredibly vital when it comes to understanding people’s decisions and perspectives better. Often what leads to misunderstanding is that we assume we know what the other person is thinking. The sudden cancellation of plans by a friend might lead you to think they aren’t excited as you were to meet them, which leads you to believe that they don’t appreciate the friendship as much as you do. But in reality, if you allowed them to explain and listen to them with compassion and empathy, you might realise it has nothing to do with you in the first place. They are just having a tough time navigating through things that are happening in their life.
Listening helps avoid conflicts
As a result, such misunderstandings (ie: believing that your friend doesn’t value you) can be prevented; but even when conflicts do happen, listening actively can still save the day. Both parties often see each other as the selfish one when in reality they are both trying to protect their own goals and aspirations. Listening to each other is at the core of any negotiation process which helps to achieve a win-win situation.
Listening helps you become more accepting
Actively listening can also foster open-mindedness in you. A lot of the things we disagree with are things that we have a shallow understanding of. For instance, if you find a bunch of women with protest signs fighting for so-called ‘equal rights’ as outrageous, find a friend who identifies themselves as a feminist and ask them why they do what they do. Ask them what incidences have brought them to the brink of fighting back. Listen to what they have to say and learn about the centuries of deep-rooted patriarchy that treated women as not equals.
So, you’re saying that listening is important. Okay cool. How hard can that be?
Actually, it is very hard mainly because we think way faster than we talk. Before your mum could explain thoroughly her encounter with her long lost friend, your mind would have wandered from the depths of the deepest parts of the oceans to the peaks of Everest, which gives plenty of time for you to become impatient and bored. Thus, it requires much more focus and mental energy than we thought.
We are usually more focused on what's going on in the confines of our minds (a.k.a our internal dialogues) than what’s being discussed right in front of us. This was perfectly encapsulated by the opening scene of this article. Often, our preconceived biases about someone or something can also feed our internal dialogues. As you can see above, the preconceived bias of the listener about Ashley’s boyfriend being a player aided her mind in wandering off with its own internal dialogues instead of being present and empathizing with Ashley.
If this article reminds you of all the times when you’ve been a horrible listener, congratulations, you now know you’re bad at it. But knowing you’re bad at it is exactly what we need to learn how we can improve at this since active listening is a skill. Here’s how you can improve.
#1 Make them feel heard
Making them feel heard also requires you to be completely present through the conversation. By making adequate eye contact with some non-verbal expressions such as nodding your head, having an open posture, and slightly leaning towards them to show that you’re engaged in whatever the person is discussing can do wonders in making others feel heard. It also portrays that you care about them and value their input.
#2 Ask questions and paraphrase
Although it is encouraged to listen without interruptions, asking questions when the person is done talking is vital in trying to deepen our understanding of the subject matter being discussed. Sometimes when the stories are hard to be followed, just asking questions from time to time can help you clarify things and focus closely. Paraphrasing is when you state back what was said to you using a different set of words and allowing the speaker to agree or disagree. This is to check the accuracy of your understanding of what was being discussed and allow them to clarify further.
#3 Listen without judgments
Understand that every time someone opens up to us, it means they view conversations with you to be a safe space and deeply trust you as a non-judgemental person. Listening without judgments based on how you view someone or something will not only honour the speaker’s trust but allow you to cut back on your own internal dialogues, which allows you to be more focused and present.
Understanding listening is not as easy as we used to think is where we start. With adequate practice, we can all improve at it with no doubt. Along the way, there will be lots of mistakes, mindless moments, and more internal dialogues; but there will also be plenty of opportunities to incorporate active listening skills. Don’t just hear, listen.
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