Good listening skills are often in short supply these days. Learn about the deeper social, psychological and emotional reasons for why this is…
When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.
Listening is a gift. When someone takes the time to truly hear us, it can provide genuine healing and relief.
Yet if being listened to is so powerful, why is it a rare experience for many of us? It seems that in our busy, noisy, distracted world, deeper interactions can be hard to come by. Collectively, many of us struggle with both hearing others and being heard.
For instance, have you ever opened up to a friend only to have them turn the conversation around to themselves? Or glance at their phone when you’re in the middle of spilling the beans about that awful thing your boss did? Yet if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have probably done the same to others without meaning to.
Sadly, we seem to live in a society with a chronic shortage of good listeners. But if we can learn to become better at it then we can make a real difference. In the words of psychologist Carl Rogers, co-author of Active Listening: ‘To my mind, empathy is in itself a healing agent’.
But why do some of us find listening so difficult? Here are eight key reasons…
Many of us want to be better listeners and the good news is that it’s a skill that can improve with practice. It is also well worth the effort because when it comes to being a better leader, partner or friend, being able to hear people really matters.
As a first step, it can be useful to identify what your own personal listening pitfalls are. Here are some of the most common ones:
After all, when your device buzzes it’s hard to resist the reflex to look. Yet the trouble is this can make the person you are speaking to feel slighted or ignored. Plus it can be very hard to return to fully focusing on them after you’ve broken off your attention. In fact, according to a University of California Irvine study, once our attention has been broken it can take on average over 23 minutes to get it back. That’s why it can be useful to decide how much priority we want to give to our devices when we’re spending time with loved ones. You might also find our blog post on beating information overload useful.
In other words, you might really want to hear about your best friend’s argument with their mother. But you might also find your thoughts drifting off to your next energy bill or your upcoming work deadline. The chances are that you really do want to be a good listener but with a million other things on your mind, it’s not always easy.
‘O-ho, they think my socks are the issue, do they? Well, just wait until they hear what I have to say about their treatment of the toothpaste cap.’
Likewise, worrying about what you are going to say when they finish speaking can also be stress-provoking. Social anxiety can place us so much inside our own heads that it’s hard to listen, as we’re too busy listening to our inner critic instead.
In other words, there can be deeper reasons for why we might struggle to listen and we have to forgive ourselves for this.
As we’ve seen, there can be lots of valid reasons why we might struggle to listen. That said, we can all still aim to improve our skills where possible, as long as it’s done in a self-compassionate way. In part 2, we’re going to explore how to do this.
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