THE POWER OF LISTENING
How many of you remember being told by your kindergarten teacher to “put on your listening ears”? The ability to hear is one of the earliest and greatest forms of communication we are given. Sadly, it is one of the skills we use the least.
Take a second and think about the best listener you know. What are some of the qualities this person possesses that make him/her a good listener? How does it make you feel when you speak to this person? Now take a moment and think about a time when you have talked to someone and noticed they weren’t listening to you. How did that make you feel? Did it make you feel unimportant, disrespected, overlooked? I have noticed so many times where people are left feeling rejected because someone did not give them the courtesy of listening to what they had to say. This can especially happen with our children when we are distracted by our cell phones, TV or anything else that may happen to catch our attention. As a result, that person or child can and often will react negatively in their words or actions toward us.
My mom recently made a beautiful point about listening. “Listening is an art. It takes a concentrated effort to really listen to that person and think, ‘What are they trying to say to me?” We are so often distracted by our own thoughts and everything else going on around us that we tend to forget the other person. Or we are so concentrated on how we are going to respond that we interject and give our opinions or advice when they were not necessarily warranted. More often than not people just need to be heard.
Listening takes humility. Dale Carnegie stated, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” When you take the time to truly listen to what someone is saying you are setting aside your agenda, thoughts, and desires to immerse yourself in the thoughts of the other. You are taking yourself out of the picture and allowing yourself to observe the beliefs, thoughts and perspectives that define this individual. As a result you are given the gifts of insight and knowledge.
As we become better listeners, we become better leaders; leaders not only for our children, spouse, family and friends, but for our society. Being a good listener is essential to being a good leader, which requires respect for another person’s emotions, beliefs, feelings, thoughts and opinions. When we listen with sincere appreciation and understanding of another’s thoughts we are able to embrace the dignity of each person with courage, humility and love as a true leader.
So, I challenge you to think about how you can become a better listener. How can being a good listener change your life and transform the relationships within it?
Here are some solutions to help you become a better listener:
Put down anything that may be a distraction (cell phones, TV, magazines, etc…). Focus your attention and be present. Stop thinking of what you are going to say next. You will retain more of what you are hearing and therefore respond in a genuine way.
Look in the person’s eyes that you are speaking with and position your body so that it says, “I am an interested in what you have to say. I am actively involved, interested and paying attention to this conversation.” Remember, the person who is talking is paying just as much attention to your body language as you are to theirs.
Be an open, objective and empathetic listener. Put yourself in the other person’s position and try to understand where they are coming from.
Remember, not everyone needs a problem-solver. Sometimes they just need you to be a good listener. You will pick up on these cues if you have truly been listening.
Ask questions. This will show the other person that you are engaged and understand what they are saying. Effective questions can help clarify anything that has been misunderstood in the message the speaker is trying to communicate to you.
If you receive constructive criticism from someone, don’t shut down or interrupt. We all know it is extremely difficult to listen to what we don’t want to hear especially when it seems like it’s an attack on your character. Instead, take a step back and try to understand what that person is trying to communicate. If you need a second to think about what has been said, take moment to pull your thoughts and emotions together. Then respond.
Embrace your emotions. Be able to recognize your feelings, accept them and then put them to the side so that you are able to respond in an effective manner.
Be a good leader. Listen more than you speak. As Greek philosopher Epictetus once stated, "We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak."
Listening is one of the greatest and hardest skills to master. Being a good listener pushes us to be better individuals. It requires us to continually practice virtues such as helpfulness, humility, consideration, justice, patience, and courage to name a few. Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Let’s all try to be courageous leaders for our community through our example of being better listeners.