Listening is a one of the loudest forms of kindness

Listening Skills

If you’re lucky, you have someone in your life who is a skilled listener.  I chose the word, skilled, carefully.  It is a skill, and it doesn’t always come naturally.  It certainly doesn’t for me!  But listening is one of the greatest acts of kindness you can provide. I hope learning from my mistakes can help you improve your listening skills.    

Listening skills are acquired.

I’ve been thinking a lot about listening.  I’ll be honest.  One of the main reasons I’ve been thinking about it is that I’ve had a couple of personal experiences lately when someone’s inability to listen was annoying, bordering on offensive.  Those experiences made me pause and reevaluate my own ability to listen actively and constructively.

Here are the biggest mistakes I make when listening.

1. I try to fix things.

This is such a hard one for me, because I’m a doer.  When I hear or see a problem or an opportunity for improvement, I want to fix it!  However, I think it’s safe to say that 98% of the time, when someone is telling me a problem, they don’t want to hear what I think is the best solution.  People just want someone to take the time to hear them.  Moreover, they probably know a lot more about the problem than I do, so making suggestions could even be taken as offensive or demeaning. 

2. I give advice even when it’s not solicited.

This kind of goes along with the point above, but I thought it was worth mentioning.  Here’s how I’ve been trying to keep myself in check on this lately.  I absolutely do not give advice (or a “fix-it” solution) unless the person specifically asks me.  It’s amazing – people rarely ask.

3.  I don’t give the person my full attention.

This goes hand in hand with the article I wrote last month about monkey brain.  My family members fall victim to this most often.  Whether I look at my phone, check out an Apple watch notification, or even get distracted by the pot boiling on the stove, it’s impossible to be actively listening when I’m multi-tasking.  I need to remember it’s ok to ask to finish what I’m doing first so I can give them my undivided attention.

4. I compare their experience to something that happened in my life.   

This is similar to the advice/solution points.  It’s one of those things that can sometimes be appropriate.  It’s tricky, though, because I sometimes “one-up” the person…stealing their thunder.  The result can be deflating.

5.  I think about what I’m going to say next…before they’re finished speaking.

I do this most often with people I don’t know well, or if I’m in a group social situation where it’s important for me to present myself well.  I don’t know if it’s because I want to be prepared to jump in at the right moment or make sure I say something entertaining for the group.   But it’s never a good idea.  Best case scenario – I miss information that person is saying.  Worst case scenario – that information is relevant to my comment, and it becomes apparent to everyone that I wasn’t listening.   

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Stephen R. Covey

I know making the effort to improve my listening skills is a win-win all around.  It’s also not something that happens overnight.  It can take a lifetime to develop the patience and maturity required.  The knowledge that listening is a powerful act of kindness and gift I can give to others makes it all worthwhile.

Do you have any tips on how to improve listening? 

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