A few weeks back, I explored why so many of us are terrible at listening — especially in our relationships. I promised that I’d circle back with a few ideas on tips to listen better, and I was stymied for a bit because so many of the tips on listening are boringly obvious, as in: to be a better listener, listen better! (Somewhere a Zen monk is clapping with one hand.)
Here are a few more insights on being a less awful listener that have helped me across love, work and the rest of life.
End interrupting. It seems so simple. Say nothing. Don’t move a muscle. Just sit there! But for some of us, when we hear something that hurts we immediately leap to defend ourselves–because by Jove we’re worth it. We hear an incorrect fact, and we want to establish the truth–because that’s the kind of noble defenders of honesty we are. When we see an opportunity for comedy we seize it, to lighten the mood–and who doesn’t like a laugh?
It’s incredibly hard to resist these impulses–especially after a few beers–but it’s essential that we knuckle down and do it. Tamp down your impulses. Maybe play a game of not interrupting and try to set a record for the longest you can let your partner go uninterrupted. Summon the ancient practice of patience. Painful at times, but essential.
Not talking does NOT equal listening. But it’s the first step on a long and treacherous journey to the greatest view of your life!
Stop speech preparation. I used to use the time when my partner was speaking to develop the perfect soliloquy on why I was right, complete with footnotes and witty asides. There’s no room to listen when you’re working on your punchline. Instead, come to the conversation without talking points. Use that mental juice to listen instead.
Recognize that what your partner is saying is VALUABLE. Isn’t it incredible to know another person inside and out? When speaking, your partner is giving you clues and, in many cases, direct information on how he or she ticks. In many cases, there will be fascinating subtle nuances, Hollywood twists and even full-throated reversals in your partner’s story. This info is an incredible gift–and if you’re not listening, you miss it!
Write a report. Kick off any response to your partner with a short summary of what he or she just said. This process forces you to take mental notes and–huge bonus–validates your partner’s perspective.
Stop the digital screwing around. We live in a world of ceaseless distractions. Kill them! Put down your phone, shut down your laptop, turn off the TV. Don’t let yourself be pulled away by Ellen’s latest tweet or a cool car commercial. In the big scheme of things, that stuff doesn’t matter nearly as much as your partner.
Lock in eye contact. Looking at your love is delightful on the eyes, helps you pick up on body language–and avoids those murderous distractions. If you’re apart, use video chat on your phone (unless you’re driving!).
What’d I miss?
Like any skill, listening requires reps. You’ll screw up and have bad days–accept it, but don’t let it smash you down. Keep coming back to these tips with focused energy, and in time your ears and heart will become (metaphorically) ripped.