“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey
We all know it’s good to talk, but it’s a way more meaningful experience to be truly heard. Yet so few people seem to be really good at listening. As in the Covey quote above, so many people wait for the other person to finish so they can make their own point – rather than taking a moment to consider and understand what the first person is saying to them.
This can be a frustrating and fruitless communication pattern that does nothing to help your relationships. It’s often the case with individuals and couples coming into therapy that one of their main presenting issues is how they communicate with friends and loved ones. Learning to listen is one of the first steps to take to improve a close relationship.
The Samaritans crisis listening service takes this one step further and says that “listening to another person can be the first step to saving a life”. They run an awareness-raising campaign in July each year, challenging people to become better listeners – culminating in the Big Listen day on 24th July.
As therapists, it’s our job to listen to people. Active listening skills are the first thing we’re taught when we embark on therapy training. While we’re not saying you have to be like a therapist to listen to people, we can offer some tips and skills you can embrace if you want to listen better.
Three Ways To Become A Better Listener
1. Ditch the distractions
If you’re truly going to listen to someone then you need to offer your full, undivided attention. Don’t sit there pretending to listen when you have one eye on a TV programme, or an ear out for a text coming through. Ensure you have the time and space to hear the person who wants to talk. Being quiet is different from being truly present for someone.
2. Show you’ve heard and understood
You can communicate to someone that you’re listening both verbally and non-verbally. Ensure your body language is open and ideally mirroring the person you’re listening to. Give eye contact, and nod now and again to show you’re listening. Verbally, you can sum up what you’ve heard them say and check in to see if you’ve got it right. Ask them to say more – and don’t interrupt while they’re finding the words to express how they’re feeling.
3. Keep your opinions to yourself
Your experience of what the person is talking about is yours, not theirs. You don’t need to offer advice or opinions in return for listening – or tell the person what to think or do. Don’t sit with your answer running. Sometimes people need a sounding board. They need to think out loud. They need to process something by talking it through. So, let them do that. It can be a powerful and affirming experience to work out your true thoughts and feelings through the process of being heard and understood.
If you feel you could benefit from the active listening offered by a trained therapist, and wish to explore further the issues you’re currently experiencing, then get in touch. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] to book your first appointment. We have sessions available seven days a week at our Clapham and Tooting centres.