How To Become a Better Listener

April 29, 2020

I enjoy solving problems. When things stop working, I like to fix them. If a friend has an issue, I’m excited to brainstorm solutions.

But this attitude has gotten me into trouble more than once.

It’s easy to jump into “fix-it mode” when a friend is sharing something wrong in their lives. It feels like the natural way to help.

Has a friend of yours ever shared a problem and you responded with, “You should think about this…”? or “Have you tried…?”

I know I’ve done it a million times.

What I’ve learned, and continue to learn, is that a lot of the time, people just want to share what’s on their mind. They don’t need or want advice.

In other words, they want you to listen.

If you’re a problem-solver by nature, then this one question might radically transform your conversations:

“Would you like my advice, or would you just like me to listen?”

Again and again, I’m surprised at how often just want me to listen. In a sense, we all need to be heard, and while it can appear like we’re looking for advice, we just need someone to listen.

When we break it down, the question really helps us do 3 things:

  • Clarify your role. Are you the listener, or the fixer?
  • It makes listening easier. If your friend or colleague just needs you to listen, you don’t have to worry about coming up with an ingenious solution. You can actually just listen.
  • It can can make you a better listener. In my experience, you can listen at a much deeper level when you aren’t offering advice. You can listen not just to the content of the conversation, but to what is being felt and what is unsaid.

So the next time a friend, a colleague, or a family member calls you with a problem on their mind, try asking this simple question.

Then sit back and really listen.

PRACTICAL WISDOM

As someone who is inclined to talk rather than listen (understatement!), these practices have really helped me develop my listening.

In the spirit of One Percent Wisdom, they are small, simple ideas that over time can make an exponential difference.

Remember RASA. I love this acronym from sound expert Julian Treasure’s TED talk. It stands for Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask. I’ve found that Summarise is a powerful step in great listening. After someone shares, try to feed back what you heard.

Practice Silence. One of the best ways to listen better is to get more comfortable in quiet. Try sitting for 3-5 minutes a day in complete silence, whether it’s practicing meditation or just gazing out a window.

Listen for the 3 Levels. In each conversation, there are three conversations happening: content, feelings, and identity. We tend to gravitate towards the content, but the feelings and identity conversations are often richer. When listening, **try moving beyond the content and asking yourself, “What is this person feeling?” (Borrowed from *Difficult Conversations)*.

WORDS OF WISDOM

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

— Ernest Hemingway