What feels like a million years ago I remember being taught how to be an active listener. From what I can remember, this involved a lot of nodding, eye contact and the occasional verbatim reiteration of another person’s thoughts.
I’m sure that at the time this was valuable knowledge. But now? A wee bit outdated.
I mean I guess the same basic principles do still apply: hush up when someone else is talking and make an effort to let them know you’re engaged. That will always be important. But as I’ve gotten older
and matured I’ve started to learn more about how to listen in different situations.
There are times to offer advice, times to challenge the opinions of other people and times to shut your pie hole all together.
Sometimes listening is just giving a hug, or smiling. And other times it’s a delayed reaction when your response comes hours or days after an earlier conversation.
This morning I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about listening that seems to align with my own evolving methods. Here’s my favorite excerpt:
“[…] But listening isn’t easy. The more we listen to others, the more likely we will react — or overreact — to what they say. Listening, it turns out, is much harder than speaking. We have to allow things we might disagree with to hang in the air. We have to move over a little and create space for those things to linger.
That kind of listening takes tremendous courage.
But if we’re interested in learning — about ourselves as well as others — then it’s worth it. And if we’re interested in being connected to others, showing them respect, helping them feel better, and solving problems between us, than it’s more than worth it. It’s essential.
Until people feel heard, they will fight to be heard. But once they are heard, there is little left to fight for, and then we can move on, not as “us vs. them” but simply as “us.””