The Lost Art of Listening

pexels-photo-29066-copyFriends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer. – Ed Cunningham
One theme that was repeated over and over in the recent election season was “making our voices heard.” Left, right, red or blue, it seemed like not one person in the country felt like anyone was listening to how they really felt, learning about what motivated them, or caring about where they actually were. Masses of people in this country felt abandoned and voiceless, and they took their frustrations and concerns to the polls. How can we turn the tide and reach our neighbors, coworkers and friends? How can we lessen that sense of abandonment or loneliness and find ways to work together for the greater good?
We can listen.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force,” writes Brenda Ueland in her essay, “On The Fine Art of Listening.” The people who “really listen to us are the ones we move toward, and want to sit in their radius as though it did us good.”
When people know people are listening, it is a clear indication that their voice has merit. But as The Wall Street Journal recently reported, experts find we’re naturally just not good at listening for a whole range of reasons. We have a tendency to swap stories, so we interrupt. We’re uncomfortable with emotions, so we avoid focusing too closely on someone else’s feelings. We’d rather talk about ourselves, so we rush the talker along. How can we increase our listening skills and become more actively involved in the conversation?

Stop Focusing on What You’ll Say Next

According to an article in Fast Company, you simply have to stop focusing on what you’ll say next. When you listen, you are learning from the other person. Research by social psychologist Arie Kruglanski and his colleagues at the University of Maryland, suggests that there are two distinct mindsets: a thinking mindset and a doing mindset. When you listen, you put yourself in a thinking mindset. It gives you a chance to understand what is going on around you. When you focus on planning your next contribution to the conversation, you enter a doing mindset. With attention to your own participation, which hinders thinking through the events carefully.
Sunny Sea Gold takes that advice a step further and writes in Scientific American that we can all improve our listening skills if we:

  1. Check assumptions – Cultivate a sense of genuine interest about where the other person is coming from and what he or she might say.
  2. Get Curious – ask open-ended questions.
  3. Suspend judgement – try really hard to let the other person talk.
  4. Know when to tap out – If you’re hurried, rushed or overly stressed, you’re not going to be able to be truly present and curious during a conversation. If you need more time, ask to wait for a bit.

Listening builds a foundation of trust, creates empathy, and paves a path for conversation. If we all take time, not just post election, but real time to listen, we can change our relationships for the better. And if we take that time to listen to strangers or those with different or opposing viewpoints, we really could understand how to change the world. Women need to make an effort to recapture this lost skill. Together, we accomplish amazing things, and if we truly listen and support one another we can do anything!

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