We live in a world that’s overcrowded with information. Every time I check my social media I’m inundated with people speaking at me: mostly trying to sell me things or influence my opinions. In a world where there’s so much talking there’s also a lot to be said for developing the skill of listening.
Are you a good listener? Many of us think we are, but often we’re listening for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t serve us or those to whom we’re listening.
Over the years I’ve learnt to spot those people who truly listen to understand. They’re slow to jump in when I finish a sentence. And when they speak it’s often to ask a follow up question or ask me to clarify something I’ve said. Such people are rare. Most of us listen to hear when it’s our turn to speak.
Being good at listening is a skill that serves us well. When we listen we learn more. And learning more can help us navigate life’s complexities.
How often do you listen without an agenda? Without a story about what the other person is saying or where the conversation is leading you? To do so requires us to cultivate present moment mindfulness. It’s a skill I chose to learn many years ago when I was working in a high pressure recruitment role. I realised that I would not be doing my best by my interviewees if I was not fully present to them. If I was not actively listening while they told me their career histories.
Learning to listen in this way was not easy for me. There were so many times when I found my attention wandering. To the lengthy to do list on my desk. To what needed doing at home. Each time I caught myself I made an effort to return to the present moment. I still don’t find it easy but it is becoming easier.
Learning to listen means getting comfortable with silence. Not feeling the need to respond as soon as the other person stops talking. It means being at ease while your mind processes what’s just been said. Noticing what’s important; and what’s been left unsaid.
When we listen in this way, and ask genuine follow up questions we get a better insight into the minds of those with whom we’re talking. By understanding what’s important to them we can connect more effectively; and find win-win solutions to difficult issues. Asking questions also helps us influence the direction of other people’s thinking.
When we learn to listen to others we also get better at listening to ourselves. Women often spend their time focussing on others. We can lose the connection with our own feelings and desires. Stopping and listening more deeply will help us reconnect. And when we do we find our wisdom is always there to guide us in the best direction.
This week I want to encourage you to get better at listening. You may be surpised at the benefits it brings into your life.