I was listening to my husband and scrolling Instagram. At least that’s what I thought I was doing.
I seemed to be nodding and grunting at the right times. But when I looked up I had no idea what he said.
I looked at the love of my life and realized that I was completely ignoring him.
And for what? Nothing! The void of meaningless scrolling.
That’s when I decided to that I was going to take time to listen, to actually be present. It was time to put real effort into being a better listener.
Why Is It So Hard to Take Time to Listen?
Let me make one thing clear. I’m not the only one in our relationship that has been guilty of “phubbing” (phone snubbing). My husband has “listened” while scrolling his phone plenty of times. So have my parents, and probably everyone else I know.
It has always been hard to take time to listen because we are all caught up with the things we are doing and thinking about. But now, with smart phones, texting, and social media, it’s harder than ever to take time to listen. We are constantly distracted and our attention spans have been reduced that of a fly.
Even when we think we are listening we are often doing things that actually shut down the person we are trying to engage with.
So how can we avoid these common listening mistakes? How can we relearn how to take time to listen? Let’s find out!
Take Time to Listen and Don’t Assume Anything
Have you ever been listening to your friend or family member and assumed you knew the direction they were going in?
I know you probably have because I have plenty of times. In fact, I only know that I was wrong in my assumptions. I learned that when I finally stopped to take time to listen and keep my mouth closed.
When you are patient and take time to listen to everything a person is saying you may find that they are not being as combative or complaining as you might first assume. We are storytellers by nature so we often present our stories in problem, action, solution format.
Before you get upset about something someone is saying to you take the time to hear them out. All the way out.
Take Time to Listen Instead of Solving
Another big listening mistake we often make is jumping to offer solutions. But that is not how to strengthen your relationship. One of my favorite YouTube Videos ever addresses this in a hilarious conversation between a husband and wife.
You may be very empathetic and want to help the person you are listening to come up with a solution for their problem. Maybe you have some very practical suggestions.
But that doesn’t change the fact that we all need someone to vent our feelings to once in awhile. In fact, often, just having the opportunity to get it out makes us feel better. Being able to work through a problem by speaking it out loud to a trusted friend may be all we need at times.
So next time you are listening and you want to offer a solution just wait. Take time to listen because sometimes that’s all they really need.
Give Your Complete Attention
As I mentioned before, it can be hard to pay attention nowadays because of all the distractions at our fingertips.
Whether you are looking at your phone, watching a video, playing a game, or doing housework you may also be called upon to listen to someone, probably someone you love. Remember you can pause almost anything and take time to listen.
When you take the time to listen and give someone your complete attention and listen to them completely they will feel cared by you.
Being a better listener is going to make your communication will be clearer and more meaningful. Problems will be addressed in a better way. And last but not least, you will become closer in your relationship with that person by being a better listener.
Listen to Message Not Just the Words
Now that you are really listening remember that the words someone are saying may not tell the whole story. To be a better listener you need to notice their tone of voice, body language, and the overall message of what they are saying.
Sometimes the overall message is quite different from what the person is saying. Is your child crying about not getting a toy but actually just longing for attention? Maybe your wife isn’t really upset about your dirty socks but rather the fact that she feels taken for granted. Conversely maybe someone is acting happy but they are really just putting on a show. Or perhaps they are trying to hint that they want to do something without directly asking.
Communication is difficult because we would all like to have it spelled out in black in white but none of us actually do that. There are a lot of nuances and feelings involved. We are often trying to spare someone’s feeling or hide our own embarrassment.
Take time to listen to the the message and not just the words and you will find that you understand your loved ones, friends, and even coworkers and bosses a lot better.
One of the hardest things for me to avoid when listening is the tendency to interrupt. Often I want to interrupt because I am making one of the mistakes above. I want to offer a good solution or I am assuming I already know what the person is saying. But interrupting is a big mistake if you want to be a better listener!
Just think about how it feels when YOU are trying to say something important or tell a story. Isn’t it frustrating? When someone interrupts you don’t you feel like they don’t care about what you are saying and think that they are smarter than you? If you feel that way, so do others. That’s why you need to be a better listener.
It can be very difficult to just take time to listen, but try to resist the urge to interrupt. When you feel it tell yourself to hold back and listen to the whole story.
Almost every time I resist interrupting and take time to listen the message of the speaker turns out differently than the direction I thought it was going in. Not interrupting is definitely the hardest but most important part of being a better listener.
When you listen, even if you listen well, you still might not understand everything someone is trying to tell you. That’s when it’s time to ask questions. Without interrupting of course.
When someone has finished telling you something ask them questions like; “So you feel that…is that right?” “You are saying that…is that what you mean?” “You do it this way….right?”
Asking questions like that will help you be a better listener and make sure that you understand what they have said. It will also help them see that you are earnest in your efforts to understand them.
Whether the person you are listening to is expressing their feelings, giving directions, or telling a story, asking questions is a good way to show your listening and really understand what was said.
Allow for Differing Points of View
Being a better listener is so important. We live in a world where people don’t listen but rather push their opinions aggressively. It’s a big reason for all the division and strife we see these days. We just aren’t listening to one another.
For example, one day someone I thought was a friend asked me my opinion on a certain fairly controversial matter. Because they had asked I tactfully expressed my feelings on the matter.
In return I was attacked. My viewpoint was not the same as theirs and they did not want to hear it at all. They ended the conversation abruptly.
I was surprised because I had been very gracious but honest about my feelings.
If you ask for someone’s point of view, will you take time listen to them with an open mind? Are you willing to accept that they may have a different opinion than yours? Will you take time to listen and understand their side and any supporting points they might share without getting angry?
As long as we only listen to those who agree with us we will always be divided and no one can grow or learn. Only when we take the time to listen and see all the sides of a story can we move towards peaceful solutions, understanding and growth.
As you can see from many of these tips, if you want to be a better listener it always takes patience. We have to learn to hold our tongues, stay calm, and take time to listen and truly understand those who are speaking to us.
Whether it’s a simple question your child asks, a random story your spouse wants to tell you, instructions at work, or the differing viewpoint of a friend, listening is the most important thing you can do to build strong relationships and succeed in your endeavors. Making the effort to be a better listener is very important.
When you find yourself getting anxious, wanting to interrupt with a solution or an argument, looking at your phone, remember these tips and take time to listen. I promise being a better listener will help you enjoy a happy simple life with good relationships!
What do you do to make yourself a better listener? Share your tips in the comments below!