If Only You Could Listen….
Yes, we listen to music, podcasts, telephones, and televisions. We have headphones so no one has to hear what we listen to but us. These things all have a place. But the face-to-face act of human listening between people is diminishing with each generation. The world hurries and people have trouble keeping pace, especially our children, even though they can’t always see it. Perhaps we should take some time out occasionally and listen in the old-fashioned way. Ear to ear, heart- to- heart.
‘To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks up a special heart that listens.’ F.Scott Fitzgerald
These days it is hard to be heard by others or, in turn, to listen when someone is trying to articulate their problem. Often we have our own agenda and the need to ‘fix’ things without really getting to the root of what is bothering us or someone near to us. How many times do we find ourselves glazing over when someone recounts their story to us and how many times do we feel the need to jump in with answers or ‘yes I knows’ before someone has finished speaking?
The art of listening really means just that. Listening. Taking time to really focus on the person talking to us and engaging. Listening is one of the most important skills we can have so how can we become better listeners? For me, I try to remove distractions; it is hard to concentrate with the television on for instance, or the laptop whirring. I put away what I am doing if possible, or, if it is difficult to talk because of circumstances, I suggest a time and space where we can soon talk properly.
Sometimes it is easier to talk outdoors; deep conversations can seem easier in the park or sitting under a tree!
Most importantly, be warm. Good body language and being focused means good communication in a non-verbal way.
Try not to appear self-conscious. This may sound silly but sometimes it is hard to concentrate if you aren’t happy with your appearance for instance, or if you feel a little daunted by the other person. It’s good to remember that if someone is pouring out their thoughts to you they aren’t likely to be judging you at the same time. Endeavour to put your own insecurities to one side…(we all have them however wise we may feel).
Put yourself in the other persons shoes. Really try to imagine how you would feel in their situation. True communication happens when people understand each other. Try to find common ground but at the same time don’t say you know how they feel. You don’t, but you are trying to see things from their point of view.
Don’t just listen. Really hear. Develop your sense of interpreting sound as a way of understanding people – tone of voice can indicate whether someone is joyful or depressed, angry or scared.
There is a need to be honest if someone is going through a hard time, and the truth as you see it put forward in a kind and gentle way can be helpful. Be thoughtful though; it is natural to try to put forward solutions when you want to help, but often talking things through with an understanding person who cares can lead a person to find their own answers.
If you are listening to a loved one it is hard not to judge at times, but it is important not to. Often it is easier for people to discuss their worries with strangers rather than people they don’t know well – then any shared history doesn’t play a part. If you are listening to a loved one and they are saying something you may not wish to hear it can be difficult and that is the time to remind yourself how much you love them.
This isn’t meant to be a lesson in counselling – drilling down to details and summarising a persons problems – I should leave that to the experts. This is about listening as a friend. Being there in the first instance.
Listening is not always about being there to offer tea and sympathy. There are other ways to listen; small things like catching someone’s name and remembering it when introduced to them for the first time. Making an effort to pick up on the little things. Kindly exchanges with the street sellers and shopkeepers. Allowing each and every person from diverse cultures to have a voice and speak their truth. Listening with a kind heart.
How loved do you feel when someone takes the time to listen to you? It makes you feel good. It provides you with a support system and it creates bonds of friendship that can strengthen over time.
Not everyone needs a therapist although of course sometimes they are necessary. Sometimes a friendly listener can help put cares and woes into perspective. Quite often the best thing about an exchange between two people is just that. The exchange. There is not necessarily any pressure to find a solution. The exchange of ideas and the experience of being ‘heard’ can be completely satisfying in itself.
‘The greatest gift you can offer to another person is your attention.’ Thich Nhat Hanh.
‘A good listener will listen not only to what is being said, but also to what is left unsaid.’ Anon …
Resolve each day to take time to listen to someone. It can change their lives and change your own.