Recently I have been taking a course that is all about improving my listening skills. I have always been told that I am a good listener, and I must admit it is a role I have always found myself in with friends. I am often used as a sounding board, or asked advice, I am happy to listen and always want to help others. The interesting thing about doing this course though is learning that when we think we are being a good listener, sometimes we actually are not.
When a friend, partner, or co worker share a story with us we may be listening, but the majority of the time our thoughts start to wonder, we start thinking about ‘our own story’, we start remembering how a similar thing happened to us, or perhaps someone else we know. We may say “oh yes that happened to me,” or “I know exactly how you feel.” Would it surprise you to know that the minute you start trying to share your own story is the minute you stopped listening? As soon as you want to jump in and share your related story, or offer advice you stop listening. It becomes about your needs and not theirs.
I hate seeing people in pain, I always want to “fix” it. I want to jump in with some wise advice and help, (because I am oh so wise, not, lol) but that is not about them, that is making it about ME. It is ‘my need’ to want to fix things, it is ‘my need’ to want to stop their pain.
Good listening skills are not the same as good fix it skills. Not everyone shares their story in order to have their issue or problem solved, they share because they need to get it off their chest. They may just want to hear it said out loud, or have someone say “I am here for you“. If my friend’s marriage is breaking up, I can not fix that. I can offer advice and refer her to the right help, but she may not need that. If my friend asks me “hey Mac can you offer me advice on this issue?” Then sure I can, but we sometimes need to learn to wait until we are asked. We can say “I am here for you and if you ever need advice or an opinion then ask me.” But we have to respect their rights and their wants.
Sometimes a friend, our child, or a person we work with, just needs to be listened to. I know sometimes I feel stressed about something and I just want my husband to listen. He’ll say “I don’t know what to say to fix it” and I will tell him, “I don’t want you to fix it, I just need you to listen“. When someone listens to us we are better able to work through our own thoughts and often come up with our own solutions.
Sometimes we just need to be silent, to not add our own story on top of theirs.
Now I am not advising you just sit there, you need to show you are listening. A great way to do that is paraphrase back to them what you are hearing. For example.
Julie says “It was so horrible, I couldn’t believe she said that to me, how dare she tell me my daughter has no manners”!
You say, “No manners?”
Julie says, “Yes, she said no manners and I was so angry, I felt like she is the one with no manners . . . .” and Julie will continue to talk.
In this example just by repeating back her words in a questioning tone, Julie feels like you are listening and she keeps sharing her story. Now imagine this same conversation, but instead of you asking “no manners” you say,
“oh I know my sister once said that about my son and I was so hurt”.
You may think you are showing Julie you are listening, but you have actually now stopped listening and are now sharing your own story.
The majority of the time at work, or in the playground you are just having a social conversation and you don’t need to go into deeper listening. When I drop the kids at school I am always engaging in “social chit chat” and that is the perfect thing to do. Same goes for a coffee break at work, you engage in social conversation of back and forth talking. Social chatting is fun for both parties and it is a great way to get to know new people too.
But when a friend calls you because she or he is really upset and needs you to listen, that is the time to apply those listening skills and hold off on your own story. A good friendship will allow you both this time. No one can always be the listener, we all need to be heard and we all deserve to be heard.
Thanks for listening, love Mackenzie xx
Now it’s your turn to talk, leave me a comment below it will make my day