Many of us think our role in a conversation is to talk. In fact, what most people seem to prefer is to have a conversation partner who is a good listener. We may say too much, repeat ourselves to make a point (when the point is already made), talk about ourselves (or something irrelevant to the point), when, in fact, if we pay attention, we might notice that what is required in not talk but quiet listening. It’s helpful to make space so good listening can actually happen.
There is so much value to allowing for space in our conversations. Space has value. It is in space where we can reflect, process, feel, understand and perhaps, respond. Space does not have to be filled with words. An important aspect of talking is pausing. An important aspect of listening is being present in the space.
We can create space when we listen without interrupting or allowing ourselves to be distracted.
We can create space when we are focused in our listening and listen to learn something. We show that we are interested. We are not in a rush to react.
Quite your mind before you begin to listen. With the multiple distractions in our lives, begin by bringing the person you are talking with, “front and center”, and then, tune in.
Know your role. If it is to offer advice, listen well so you understand the person’s situation and experience. You are not there to problem solve. It’s easy to give advice and tell someone what YOU think. But most people just want to be heard as they talk things through and find a way to reach their own solutions while feeling safe and supported. And sometimes people just want to share their life by telling us something.
Find the appropriate pace. You may need to go slow and let the other person express their full before responding.
Pay attention to where your thoughts are while you are listening. If you are formulating your response, you are probable not fully present to what is being shared. Stop thinking about your response while listening to another person. Just focus on them, and then you may want to repeat in your own words what was said (so you understand). Be thoughtful about letting the speaker finish their full sentences. Maybe allow what may seem like an awkward pause to happen at the end to make sure that the speaker is finished saying what they have to say.
Ask questions. See if your conversation partner just wants to be heard, or wants your help in brain storming. Be curious about what is going on both within the other person and within you. You don’t have to be a therapist to be sensitive to emotions that are often underlying words. And if you find that whatever is being discussed is too uncomfortable, let the other person know of your response and that you may need to take a breath or “re-set” rather than pretending.
When listening, it will take some effort to not jump into thinking, talking, and helping mode. Keep in the back of your mind that all you need to do is just listen to the other person, and be there for them, right then and there. Try to be aware of your body language.
Put down devices when listening. And turn them off. Even the slightest distraction of peeking over to see why the phone is buzzing can send the message you are not 100% there and it can interrupt your own ability to stay in the conversation.