Sharing is caring, but so is listening! Building real connection with other people in your life can take some getting used to—especially when it’s so normal in our society to go through the motions and have surface conversations.
Studies show that we spend about 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about nine percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Unfortunately, studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.
The good news is, listening is a skill you can build, and science offers some proven tips to help you hone the art of giving someone a sympathetic ear.
Some “dos” to show you’re really listening:
- Let the other person know you’re listening by simply saying so: “tell me what you really mean. I’m listening.”
- Ask to have your turn, if you would like to share too. Listening makes it more likely the other person will listen to you.
- Show empathy and understanding when the other person expresses negativity or difficulties. You could say “I understand” or “I get where you’re coming from.”
- Listen actively, carefully and attentively. Listen in order to understand.
- Stay present with the other person. Think of listening as a kind of meditation.
- Only chime in with your own feelings when it feels right. A person may have a lot to say, and if they need to take all the space at first, give it to them.
- When it’s appropriate, ask questions, but you will want your questions to be curious ones that don’t fill in the blanks, and aren’t leading. Curious questions don’t contain the answer already. They don’t end in “right?”
- Show the other person you are listening by facing them, being relaxed in your posture, and through good eye contact. If you seem disengaged, you aren’t likely to encourage them to really share.
Some “don’ts” to avoid:
- Avoid thinking of the next thing to say. These are “mental side trips” and are distracting.
- Avoid giving advice – you can problem-solve together through the conversation.
- Avoid interrupting. Interruption or cutting off the other person will shut them down.
- Avoid judgments.
- Avoid assuming you know what the person is going to say next.
- Don’t worry that you’ll say the wrong thing. Being self-conscious can be distracting.
- Avoid talking over the other person.
- Don’t explain why they shouldn’t feel that way.
- Don’t try to solve the other person’s problems.
- Don’t over-talk – let the conversation flow, and let it be a real exchange.
By following these “dos” and “don’ts” you are on your way to listening for real. And on your way to real, meaningful connection.
Kate Murphy (2020) “You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters,”
Michael Nichols (2009) The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning To Listen Can Improve Relationships.
This article is part of CMHA’s Mental Health Week series