Have you ever been in a situation where you aren’t being heard when you talk to someone? You’re pouring out your heart but your audience looks distracted. Bryant H. McGill tells us “one of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say“. When your friend is talking and you listen to them speak, it’s a sign of respect.

What occurs when we show respect to someone? 

If you responded “reciprocity” then you’re right! Your friend will reciprocate respect because you listened to them. This, in turn, becomes a cycle of listening, respect, and back to listening; a positive cycle you generally don’t want to stop. You probably put two and two together by now; listening is more than only hearing the words, it is also about safeguarding someone’s feelings. You don’t want to make anyone feel something that doesn’t feel good for you or to make someone feel that they’re not being heard when they’re talking to you, especially if they’re telling you something close to their heart. This is “the golden rule”.

Who doesn’t want to be listened to? What would be the point of talking to someone if they’re not going to pay attention to you or remember what you said? You might think you are a great listener already, but did you know that listening is also a skill that can be developed and improved? Dean Jackson says, “Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self“. He calls listening an art, and any art requires a level of skill. While some art comes naturally to some people, for others it’s harder work. Natural or acquired, some level of skill will always be needed in order to make any skill look good or work well. Eventually, one becomes a master at it.

Ways to improve your listening skills:

One way to improve your listening skill is by not rehearsing what you’re going to say next. This may sound contradictory, but if you are too busy thinking about what you are going to say, then you never hear what the other person is telling you. And when you don’t listen well, you can kiss the rest of your communication skills goodbye. Sounds exaggerated? Think about it, how are you going to gain someone’s trust if they get the sense you are not listening, or if they sense that what you want to say seems more important to you than what they intend to communicate? Robert E. Doyle says “show a person that you are willing and able to really listen to them, and that you are not going to try to talk at every instance available to you” (Essential Skills and Strategies in the Helping Process. Pacific Grove: Wadsworth Group, 1992.).

Be in the moment. Live in the moment, as in mentally be there, not just physically. Actively listen to the person who’s telling you something. The fact that they’ve chosen you as their recipient is already a sign that they value you. But what does being in the present look like? Ask questions and repeat back what they told you. This proves that you’ve been paying attention and that you find their story interesting enough to want to know more about it. You can read more about the method of asking questions on Mind Tool’s website. 

If asking questions is not your thing, try observing, and by this SILKMentoring means open your eyes. That’s all. Look at what the person is doing. Are they moving their hands in a certain way? What position are they standing or sitting in? Study their eye movements. Are they intently looking at you or do they constantly move their eyes? Surely after these observations you will have paid attention to them. The Unitarian Universalist Association talks in more detail about how observing can help with listening. You’re already on your way to being a better listener! Your body language and tone of voice can also play a part in the answers you get when you ask questions.

Finally, check out this video by Soul Pancake, where six pairs in different stages of their relationship do an experiment of 4 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact to increase intimacy; it’s a way of staying connected. SILKMentoring suggests you try this experiment too and then ask yourself how it made you feel, and if you come to any realizations. The following quote by Paulo Coelho resonates with SILKMentoring’s philosophy on listening and on relating to others in general; “Listen to your heart. It knows all things.” Listening to your own self will help you to listen to others and connect to your heart and to the other person. Becoming better listeners empowers everyone. If you give others your listening ear you will gain their trust and empower them.