Are You a Good Listener?

Are You a Good Listener?
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For a dating coach, I’m a pretty bad listener.

It’s embarrassing to admit but since my whole shtick is about truth, here’s the truth:

All too often, I’d rather talk than listen. Especially when the salient points are buried deeply in a stream of unnecessary detail.

This is never more manifest than within my marriage. My wife is a talker who comes from a family of talkers. Stories don’t have a beginning, middle and end… they just peter out after about twenty minutes. And because there are so many tangents (and tangents upon tangents), I find it really hard to give good, focused attention to my wife.

Stories don’t have a beginning, middle and end… they just peter out after about twenty minutes.

It’s awful. She deserves more. Yet I have trouble delivering.

“What’s the point?” is all that’s in my head while I strain to hold eye contact and nod.

Now, to be fair, this is typical male behavior but I have no real excuse for it, especially given my profession. Yet we’d be foolish to deny that, in general, men want the thirty-second version, not the ten-minute version.

Once we start tuning out the (seemingly) unnecessarily details, we miss the important part – how she made plans for us on Friday, or how her uncle is sick, or how there’s a kid’s performance at the elementary school tomorrow morning.

Next thing you know, she’s saying “I TOLD you that already,” or “We already discussed this!” while I look back at her blankly.

All of this is just a self-flagellating lead-in to today’s article – a really useful one for anybody – about How to Be a Better Listener.

Headers, which I should have tattooed on my forearm, include:

Be Fully Present

No Judgments or Agendas

Show You’re Listening

Listen to Learn

Okay, it looks like I’ve got some reading to do.

Your thoughts, as always, are greatly appreciated.

 

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Clare

    Such a great article.

    It’s such a cliche, but I really believe that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. No matter how wise or clever you think you are, it is always beneficial to listen more than you talk.

    The number of times I have been misunderstood because someone has not listened to what I actually said but has instead projected their own opinion onto what I’m saying! (I’ve fallen into this trap a few times myself, but I’m mindful of it nowadays.)

    I think for me the point is, you will never learn anything about the other person if you are so wrapped up in what you have to say. You already know what you think. You’ll only expand your mind if you open it to the other person’s perspective.

    Last night I made the grave error of talking briefly about my relationship to a girl that I met for the first time. She interrogated me about it within 5 minutes of meeting her and I was taken off guard. She didn’t listen to a word I had to say, but had her own judgments pre-packaged and ready to fire at me whether I wanted them or not. What a mistake! It felt like being sandblasted. It’s awful how painful a one-sided conversation can be.

  2. 2
    Michelle

    Really loved that you posted this. The crux is human beings are wired to enjoy talking much more than listening; we get an endorphin rush similar to sex or chocolate when we talk about ourselves. Combined with the fact that few people really know how to communicate in an effective way, and you have challenges across the board. The good news is, if you master the art of conversation, and learn subtle techniques to drive the conversation more effectively (or politely walk away from the bores) you can run the world. I am a very good listener; an empath. The challenge is that people are so starving to be truly listened to so when I meet them they can’t stop talking; they will say things like “this is so weird I don’t usually share this.” Or “i don’t know why I can’t stop talking” I literally can’t get them to shut up, it’s like feeding steak to a starving lion. In business or sales, the same thing. Active listening is so rare that it provides a huge competitive advantage. But you also have to manage the other persona and tell them respectfully to get to the point, or they have spoken long enough, time to switch. I have to do this all the time because people literally can’t help themselves around me and most people are good with it. Most of the time they are not aware. As for those that are not able to “land the plane” and bury the details in non-relevant points, the onus is on them to learn better communication skills if they want to be understood or listened to. And not be upset if people don’t tune in, it’s not their fault, it’s yours. This is critical for business and life.

    1. 2.1
      Clare

      Michelle,

      I, too, am a good listener and empath and I have found what you say about people being like starving lions who’ve just been given a steak when they are listened to to be absolutely true.

      I was raised with proper English manners, to be courteous and to make people comfortable – I never battle getting people to open up; it’s getting them to shut up once they do which is the problem. I’m sorry to say I spend a good portion of my life dodging people who want to sap me dry of my listening/empathic skills but have very little sensitivity to my needs or my side of the conversation.

      I also agree with you that being a good listener is extremely powerful. When you understand other people, there’s almost nothing you can’t do.

      1. 2.1.1
        Emily, to

        Clare,
        “I’m sorry to say I spend a good portion of my life dodging people who want to sap me dry of my listening/empathic skills but have very little sensitivity to my needs or my side of the conversation.”
        I find this to be true, too. I can remember details of what people tell me and can ask questions a few days later about an event they may have mentioned. There can actually be some continuity to the conversation, instead of them having to regurgitate what they already said to me 3 days prior. But … I find that they people who often enjoy that I can do that do not reciprocate when it’s my turn to talk. I’ll literally share something, stop talking and then they will start talking again about themselves. They never ask me anything about what I shared and were just waiting for me to stop talking so they could talk more about themselves.

        1. Michelle

          Emily, to and Clare. So right. Because we are so distracted by devices, media, the art of conversation has suffered. People have a deep need to be heard and there is such a drought of good listening and conversation skills people go a little crazy when they finally get around it, they are so starved for it because it’s so rare nowadays. So, use it to your advantage. It’s a super power. But be selective who you give your attention to and don’t be afraid to cut the vampires short or walk away. I do this all the time. Often mid sentence…lol. Some say it’s rude, but I think it’s more than fair. You can get people to do anything when they feel heard. It’s incredibly powerful in business and sales. Yes, protect your goods and only share your empath gifts and listening with people interesting, balanced and emotionally healthy enough to deserve it and reciprocate. Dodge the rest. They are not a fit and not worth your time and listening skills. It’s a little machiavellian but it’s the law of nature. If someone is a self centered bore, doesn’t reciprocate, can’t communicate succinctly and wastes your time, walk away. Surround yourself with people of high vibration; chatty cathy’s, people who go off on tangents and can’t articulate a point, etc.; there are usually other underlying issues that are troublesome and not a match for your high vibration. Trust me on this; conversational style is very telling of a person’s mental and emotional state. Watch it closely and don’t be afraid to cut bait.

        2. Emily, to

          Michelle,
          “Surround yourself with people of high vibration; chatty cathy’s, people who go off on tangents and can’t articulate a point, etc.; there are usually other underlying issues that are troublesome and not a match for your high vibration. Trust me on this; conversational style is very telling of a person’s mental and emotional state. Watch it closely and don’t be afraid to cut bait.”
          This is good advice. I hadn’t thought about conversation style as mirroring someone’s mental state but I think you’re dead on the money. I recently meet a woman who hogged most of the conversation, wouldn’t stop talking and whose stories rambled and were confusing. I found her hard to follow. All bad signs.

        3. Marika

          I’m not sure about cutting people out/off entirely. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. My sister never stops talking, very ADHD, but is the most empathetic and one of the kindest people I know. I just need to tell her to shut the front door sometimes. She apologizes and shuts up….for 5 minutes. She can’t help it.

          A friend-of-a-friend loves to give me unasked for advice and barely lets me finish a sentence before jumping in with her thoughts. BUT: once I got to know her I realized why she’s that way, and saw her myriad good points…I just have to be careful not to share too much on things I’m not interested in her advice about.

          I definitely don’t appreciate bad listening. But it’s not a deadly offense. I’m sure some people think we’re too passive by listening with interest and not passing judgment.

        4. Emily, to

          Marika,
          “I definitely don’t appreciate bad listening. But it’s not a deadly offense.”
          Bad listening is not a deadly offense for a friendly acquaintance, someone you may see once a month in a group. It may be something you have to put up with in a family member, but it’s not good in a close friend, who you actually pick to be in the inner circles of your life. TTMO. Time to move on.

        5. Clare

          I’m with Emily on this one.

          Bad listening is not a deadly offence, and certainly not an unforgivable one, but the price tag can be quite costly when the person is a member of your inner circle or a close confidante.

          I’ve had to deal with this in the last week, which is why it’s fresh in my mind. Two friends, both of whom were members of my inner circle until fairly recently, both not good listeners for different reasons. The first one ignored my assertions that I was fine and was handling things (I am having some family problems and, as is my way when faced with a stressful situation, I went into my shell to deal with it) and instead went behind my back and conferenced with people I had not confided in about my problems out of “concern” for me. I told her that this kind of gossiping does more harm than good and another instance like this would be friendship-ending.

          Another friend of mine I have up till now considered my closest female friend but realised that whenever we talk, she is, as Emily described, just waiting for her turn to talk, sometimes barely allowing me to finish my sentence. She turns almost everything I say back into a monologue about herself. I also realised that her comments would sometimes have a competitive edge to them (eg. “Oh, that’s ok for you because your hair is much coarser than mine.”) I just don’t feel heard by her much of the time, it feels quite one-sided and I have decided to take a step back from the friendship. I don’t think she is malicious by any means, but the friendship simply doesn’t give enough back to me.

          Michelle is right; when you’re an empath and you are used to giving out a lot emotionally, you have to be very judicious about who you spend your energy on and not allow yourself to be taken advantage of by energy vampires because otherwise you just feel drained and take on their negative energy.

          I have just realised the value of this in my own life and how much lighter and freer I feel when I am not always subsidising people emotionally who are not giving the same level back. It’s fine when you don’t have to see that person too often and they cannot do much damage, but it’s not a good idea to have those people close to you.

  3. 3
    Mrs Happy

    @ Emily, to – “I find that the people who often enjoy that I can do that do not reciprocate when it’s my turn to talk.”
    Regulars will remember my Christmas parties rant last December, after a series of repeated incidents during which I listened and talked a lot about their lives, then a big fat NADA of interest or even polite inquiry or listening about mine.
    I’m sick to death of listening to people who don’t reciprocate. I’m completely over listening in general actually, quite worn out by it, and this is not good. I fantasize about people at work just … being silent. Asleep maybe?
    Emily, re the people waiting till you draw breath to just talk about themselves again, there is a fantastic scene in Emma which illustrates two such people not listening to one another and just waiting until the other has stopped talking to dive into their own news. Miss Austen, as usual, paints the scene in a filigree of gold.

    1. 3.1
      Emily, to

      Mrs. H,
      “Regulars will remember my Christmas parties rant last December, after a series of repeated incidents during which I listened and talked a lot about their lives, then a big fat NADA of interest or even polite inquiry or listening about mine.”
      I remember, yes. I’m recently doing something similar. I’m still in my quest for my cruising chicks but do not intend to dwell on people who can’t show up consistently or have a reciprocal relationship. It almost feels like dating, where you have to keep moving on until you find the right people who you connect with and who want the same kind of relationship.
      “I’m completely over listening in general actually, quite worn out by it, and this is not good. I fantasize about people at work just … being silent. Asleep maybe?”
      I understand what you mean. Can I tell you that I dream of silence when I come home? I hide in my room just so I don’t have to talk to my roommate, who seems to have motion detector in her room and knows the exact minute I make a dash for the kitchen. I just want to come home, after 10+ hours of making pleasantries at work, and sit like a blob and watch some bad tv.
      “Miss Austen, as usual, paints the scene in a filigree of gold.”
      Ah, the incomparable Miss Austen. Speaking of classics, I just watched the 1939 movie version of “Wuthering Heights.” I’d never seen it. Good night Laurence Oliver was like something out of a dream.

      1. 3.1.1
        Marika

        Haha, Emily, that’s *exactly* what I do at home!!!

        My whole job all day involves listening, explaining, and often needing to deal with very sensitive and delicate topics. I love it, but it’s draining.

        My housemate LOVES to talk and give his opinions on all manner of topics. He also, unfortunately for both of us, now works from home and is starved of company. I’m not home much, an hour in the morning, and usually at most 2-3ish hours at night before bed. Contrast that to his 12 hours at home. And yet for a while there every single time I was quickly making food in the kitchen , he would wander in, and want to talk and get in my space. He definitely didn’t *need* to be in there at those times.

        I’m not confrontational, I do want to tell him I need space, I don’t want to hear his random and often boring opinions on deep topics at 7am or 9pm….but instead now I spend a lot of time hiding in my room!

        1. Emily, to

          Marika,
          “I’m not confrontational, I do want to tell him I need space, I don’t want to hear his random and often boring opinions on deep topics at 7am or 9pm….but instead now I spend a lot of time hiding in my room!”
          I don’t like to be mean, and I of course have to live with her so I want to be civil, but I have gotten testy and I answer monosyllabicly and don’t make eye contact … and she keeps talking! I leave the room and she is STILL talking! I feel backed into a corner and I don’t like it. And the conversation is all minutiae. Its not interesting. I can feel a “come to Jesus” meeting happening in the future. You have to put up boundaries and keep reinforcing them because there are people who will keep trying to push over them.

        2. Clare

          How the two of you put up with roommates, I cannot imagine.

          You must have the patience of saints.

          One perk of living on my side of the world is that, even on a modest salary (such as mine), you can afford a generous-sized one bedroom flat as a single person.

        3. Emily, to

          Clare,
          “How the two of you put up with roommates, I cannot imagine.”
          This is the LAST time I will ever have a roommate (or, frankly, live with anyone). If I want to leave the thermostat at 78 in the summer because I’m cheap or cook at 3 a.m. … that will be my prerogative … without being bombarded with opposition or questions! 🙂

  4. 4
    M. LaVora Perry

    Great advice about listening, Evan. Especially the part about listening to learn.

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