On Listening

I struggle with listening.

And as I pay more attention to the conversations I’m having, it seems I’m not the only one.

Science has confirmed what is easy to observe: We humans like to talk about ourselves. We like to share our experiences with others.

While this may be natural, it unfortunately leads to countless conversations where we fail to ask any questions at all and instead just speak at each other.

Why do we do this? Apparently, it’s as simple as this: it feels good.

“Why, in a world full of ideas to discover, develop, and discuss, do people spend the majority of their time talking about themselves? Recent research suggests a simple explanation: because it feels good.”

— Scientific American

I don’t want to be a person who interrupts the moment an idea enters my mind. I don’t want to be someone who cannot respectfully listen to others.

So for the past few years, I’ve been making a deliberate and conscious effort to always be asking questions. And to listen to a person’s full response before continuing the conversation.

Through this, I’ve learned a great deal about how others see the world. It’s also been an excellent opportunity to practice patience.

I know I still get distracted and interrupt, but I’m working on replacing that behavior with intentional listening.

So tell me… how’s life for you these days?

No interruptions, I promise.

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Tony July 5, 2018 Reply

Dear Graham, You said that your listening techniques might include: making a deliberate and conscious effort to always be asking questions; listen to a person’s full response before continuing the conversation.

Another is to say, “Tell me more about that.” This is useful when someone has, perhaps unwittingly, let slip a little gem about their life which you guess is high on emotion (..and then my dog died) but he quickly changes the subject of his own accord – wanting you to know but letting you gloss over it should you prefer to do so.

Graham Swan July 5, 2018 Reply

Also a good approach!

I’ve been practicing these techniques since writing this post and have found that I don’t have the chance to share much of anything in about half of the conversations I “participate” in.

I’m honestly quite surprised at how socially unaware people can be. But on the other hand, I’m learning a great deal about some people who in turn know very little about me. 😄

Jonathan June 1, 2018 Reply

Good points, Graham.

One of my favorite poems…
“A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?”

And another favorite saying:
“Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

I also find that since I’ve begun to lose my hearing, I tend to spend a lot more time listening to what people are saying. 😉

But probably my favorite quote regarding speaking and listening is from Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata”:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Sometimes we get it in our heads that someone isn’t worth listening to because they don’t fit our ideal of “worthy” or “interesting”. But it’s amazing the things people will tell you if they know you are actually listening to them. Showing kindness by simply listening to someone’s story is a good way of practicing humility and patience.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Graham!

Graham Swan June 2, 2018 Reply

That’s a lot of wisdom in one dose! I especially like the poem about the wise old owl. I think I’ll share that with my kids one day… after I commit it to my own memory. 😄

Kevin May 8, 2018 Reply

Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than in two years of trying to get people interested in you.” Being a good listener is a huge part of this.

Graham Swan May 8, 2018 Reply

That’s an excellent piece of advice. People certainly open up and share a lot more when you show interest in their life, work, family, hobbies, and so on.

I need to read some of Carnegie’s books!

Kristine May 7, 2018 Reply

I took a course on interpersonal communication, and this was my biggest take away from it! It really made me realize how bad I was at not actively listening to people…..now it drives me crazy when people don’t realize they’re not listening ha

Graham Swan May 7, 2018 Reply

I hear ya! Once I became aware of this habit, I started noticing just how often interruptions occur in day-to-day conversations.

Part of me worries that if I listen properly, I may never have a chance to actually speak… but I guess that’s what this blog is for. 😄

If I may ask, were there any other useful takeaways from the course you took?

Kristine May 9, 2018 Reply

Totally! It was a mandatory course for nursing, and a lot of the content seemed like common sense, but it transformed how I talk to people. Simple things like identifying when you stop listening (people often pick out a piece of info that someone else says, then stop listening because they just want to chime in with their input), body language (referred to as the SOLER method [Sit facing who you’re talking to, Open posture, Lean in, Eye contact, and Relax]). If you’re speaking to a public group and need a second to mentally regroup, just bring a water bottle with you and take a drink when you need time to think.

I definitely get where you’re coming from with feeling like you’ll never speak again if you listen well, but I suppose you can only keep yourself accountable and hope for the best in others! To be fair, I’d rather hear about your life than talk about mine, yours is way more interesting haha

Graham Swan May 10, 2018 Reply

Sounds like a useful course! I wonder how different our conversations would be if everyone involved focused on listening to each other in full before chiming in.

Thanks for the lesson! 😄

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