Communication Techniques - Listening
Even though listening is one half of the communication equation, it often gets much less of our attention. There are strong habit patterns at play that work against our listening well. Things like rehearsing what we are wanting to say, wondering if the other person approves of or likes us, or simply daydreaming and not being present. All of these inhibit our ability to be fully present and listen deeply to what someone is saying.
There are a number of ways to bring more intentionality to listening. These include the following: staying connected to the body as a way that maintains present-time awareness; listening is such a way as to come up with a question or two related to what the person is saying; repeating back key aspects of what the person is saying; and simply viewing listening as an important part of communication and relating.
How we are in life is heavily influenced by what views are at play in any given moment. The quality with which we listen to others is no exception. When a clear view of the important role that listening plays in communication and relationships is present, we are more likely to remember to apply any of the listening techniques that we know. Without that view, we are more likely to slip into the habit patterns mentioned above.
The underlying condition that gets in the way of listening well is simply not being fully present. Some amount of our attention is somewhere else. When we are aware of our bodies at any given moment, we are fully present. The very next moment we may be carried off by thoughts about our body, but in that moment of somatic connection, we are present. Those two will always be concomitant. So, while we are listening to another, if we can periodically check in with and feel our bodies, it will go a long way to support developing the foundation for listening well--namely being present.
One element of a listening technique called Active Listening is repeating back key aspects of what the person is saying to you. “Oh, so it took you three hours to get home instead of the usual two.” Then you might note, “That must have been difficult.” There are various benefits to doing this. One is that it keeps you listening well, as you need to be present and consider what to repeat back. The other is that it lets the person speaking know you are present and taking in what they are saying. Finally, it’s a way to invite the other person to go deeper with the conversation, as demonstrated in the quotes from above. One key with this technique is timing, so that you don’t end up interrupting the person.
Another technique that has similar benefits to active listening (keeps you present, lets the other person know you are listening, and can bring the conversation deeper) is to come up with questions to ask the person who is speaking about what they are saying. They might mention they went on a vacation. You could ask them where. They might talk about how hard it is to raise their teenage child. You could ask what, particularly, is difficult for them about that. Asking questions in this way draws you both closer into the relationship. Again, timing is important so as to not interrupt their flow of speech.