A problem shared is a problem halved – right? Chatting to a friend the other day, we realised that he has made some pretty huge decisions and grown some perspective from situations, simply by talking them out – and me listening. Most of the time, I don’t even give him my opinion, or thoughts. But we realised how valuable it can be to have someone who just listens to you. Who doesn’t judge what you’re saying. Doesn’t force you to make a decision they would make. Someone who may not even understand what you are talking about – but is content listening because it helps YOU come to your own conclusion.
While studying, I did two communication papers. I remember learning how to communicate efficiently both orally and written, but I don’t ever remember a component about effective listening (let’s hope I was actually listening in classes and didn’t miss that part!). Which is odd – you’d think as part of a Management Degree, a good communicating manager will need to be an effective listener as well? So where do we learn how to be a good listener? Perhaps it’s just a skill learned societally. Whether it’s in a professional environment, or with family and friends, there are three things I try to remember when listening to staff, colleagues, friends and family.
Is your opinion wanted?
Do they want to vent – and just need a willing ear to hear it? Or do they want you to assist them with a decision. Identify what result they need, as often it’s not your opinion they need, they just want the opportunity to tell someone their news.
My mum loves to vent. She’ll call me to tell me about a disagreement she had with someone. Regardless of whether I think she was in the right or the wrong, she isn’t looking for me to play devil’s advocate. She’s just looking for an opportunity to talk as obviously the person she disagreed with didn’t like what she had to say. So I let her. And she feels much better about it afterwards.
If it’s your turn to listen – do exactly that. Pay attention to what the person is telling you. Their whole story. Hold your questions to the end, to show you have listened to everything they’ve said and you now want to know more. And stay away from the Me/I interruptions, “When that happened to me, I did… I had that same problem last week when… Oh when I went there it was like this….” Are you really listening to the person? Or are you trying to find an opportunity to talk?
Listen without assumptions and judgement
Don’t be a sentence-finisher, and leave the conclusions to the end of the conversation. If you’re too busy making assumptions, and coming to a conclusion – you’re not paying attention to what the person is saying. Remember it’s their story, with their thoughts or feelings, which are more often than not – completely different to yours.
These can be pretty hard – especially for some like me who can be opinionated, and likes to clarify questions as and when they come to my head. But it’s something I’m aware of and can benefit both professional and personal situations. I hope they help you too!
(Photo credit: Huffington Post)