How To Listen
Most of the time you think of listening as a passive act. You might nod your head or make facial expressions, but as a listener your main job is to pay attention and wait for the moment when you have something to offer. Then you speak and the roles reverse.
But this is not listening. This is waiting and speaking. And that’s all most of us know how to do.
Real listening requires something more. It requires attention, engagement, and most of all curiosity.
Think about all the classes you’ve taken. First think about a class that bored you to tears. You probably struggled to pay attention and did your best to take notes, but nothing about the class or the teacher made you curious, and it sucked.
Now think about a class where the subject matter fascinated you or the teacher taught in a way that made you want to learn. You were engaged, present, and really curious about what made history, science, or literature work. You wanted to understand the process and the details.
Now compare the two experiences. Do you see the difference curiosity makes?
Listening with Curiosity
When you listen with curiosity, you don’t just hear the words and wait for your turn to speak. Instead, you listen for what’s behind the words: the feelings, the needs, and the dreams. You don’t just absorb what they’re saying; you become absorbed in it. And you begin to feel what they feel. You begin to truly connect to the person you’re listening to.
How To Listen Deeply
Here are some things I do when I really want to listen deeply:
1. Don’t focus on the details.
Most of the time when you listen, you listen for the details. And that’s normal because that’s how you were taught to listen.
You first learned to listen for the details in school and then later at work. But listening to learn is totally different than listening to connect.
So whenever you’re talking to a friend or loved one, don’t listen to the details, because the details aren’t important. (Unless of course, they’re telling you how to defuse a bomb.)
People tell you details because of how they feel about them. I might tell you about my cute cat, because I feel proud of her beauty or because I love her. I might tell you about this thing I saw on TV, because it made me laugh. But in almost every case the reason I share details is to frame what I’m feeling and what I need.
2. Listen for feelings.
When I say listen for the feelings, I mean to listen for how the events a person describes makes them feel.
For example let’s say your friend comes to you and starts telling you about some crazy things their boss is doing. They tell you how she moved the shredder into a closet and took away the fridge in the break room.
Now though the details are tempting, don’t take the bait! Their boss might be crazy or she might not. Either way it doesn’t matter. What matters is how they feel about it. So listen to how they feel.
Do they feel frustrated, angry, betrayed, hurt, or sad? For now just listen and guess in your own mind. And remember you are just guessing!
It isn’t about trying to diagnose someone’s feelings. It’s about being curious about how they feel. So listen,be curious, and ask yourself “What are they feeling?”
3. Listen for needs.
Needs are the essential things that everyone requires to be happy and healthy. Joy, wholeness, peace, order, and predictability are all kinds of needs.
An attractive partner, a big family, quiet space, a well organized desk, and a schedule are ways or strategies for meeting these needs, but they are not needs. I know this is a subtle distinction so don’t get hung up on it. We’ll come back to it in another challenge.
For now all you have to know is that when you’re listening for needs, you’re listening for the essential thing the person is longing for.
In the example I mentioned above with the crazy boss you might get curious about why they feel that way. And you could ask yourself: What do they need? What would help them feel better? What essential universal thing are they longing for?
You might guess they have a need for collaboration with their boss, or a need for respect, or a need for acknowledgement.
This will be hard at first, because that’s not how most of us were taught to think. Just be curious, what is it that they really want? What would having the fridge back, or being consulted by their boss give them?
A Good Start
There is a lot more to the art of listening, but this is a good start. If you just do these two things your ability to listen in a connective way will increase ten fold.
In the next challenge we’re going to talk about what you do with this information and how you can use it to connect to the people in your life.
For now here’s today’s challenge:
Challenge #24 – Listening
For this challenge you either need to have a conversation with a friend or mentally review a recent conversation you’ve had. As you do this, listen for the feelings and needs.
One way to make this easier is to get out a piece of paper and make two columns, one for feelings and one for needs. Then as you talk or review just write down your guesses for different feelings and needs you think the other person has arising. And remember the #1 Rule BE CURIOUS.
As you do this you may realize how limited your feelings and needs vocabulary is and that’s ok. For now just do your best to guess the feelings and needs using whatever words you can think of. Then once you’re done if you want to expand your vocabulary there’s some resources at the end of the post.
2. Reflect: Now that you’ve tried a new way of listening. Take some time to reflect on what you noticed.
- What’s different when you listen with curiosity?
- What ‘s different when you listen for feelings and needs, instead of details?
- How easy or hard is it to notice the feelings and needs behind what the other person is saying?
- Did you gain a better perspective or understanding of their world?
- What was the hardest part about listening for feelings and needs?
- What was the easiest part?
3. Share: Please share in one or all of the following ways.
- Blog – Write a post about what it’s like to listen in a new way. Or write a post about what you learned through your reflection.
- Post – Using #30dayhappy or posting to our Facebook group share one thing you learned or one thing you struggled with in this challenge.
- Comment – In the comments below tell me what you think about this way of listening or ask a question about something you found challenging.
Here are some excellent handouts that offer lists of different and subtle words for feelings and needs. They were created by the woman who taught me this communication technique were using in this phase which is know as non-violent communication or NVC.
Feelings And Needs Lists – http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/resources/15.pdf
Other Resources – http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/resources.html