Communication is a two-way street. It is not only about talking and vocalizing feelings. An equal and important part of communication is also listening. And we all know that for communication to be truly effective, either between friends, partners or colleagues, both individuals in a relationship must participate more or less equally in talking and listening.
While reams have been written about verbal communication in terms of talking clearly, enunciating, diction, etc., listening also plays a pivotal role in two people communicating successfully. Have you ever thought about how effective your listening skills are? Or are you a poor listener? Think about this.
Is your significant other always accusing you of never taking note of what he/she is saying? There may be times when she nags and you turn a deaf ear. But has that become a habit? And have you ever thought about the fact that she may be doing it because you’re not getting the message? Does he/she also tell you that you are missing significant details or have been oblivious to vital information that they have told you, which you claim total ignorance about?
Do your friends say they’ve already told you something that you say you have no clue of? Sometimes it could be an oversight and you may really be in the dark, but if it is happening with increasing frequency and with different sets of friends, there is a greater likelihood that you’re simply not listening when they are talking.
Is your boss constantly getting irritated because he says you haven’t followed instructions? You may put it down to fault finding and that he has it in for you, but have you ever stopped to think about whether he’s got a point? Or asked a co-worker, in whose presence he might have given you the instructions, for an unbiased opinion on whether he was justified?
If the answer to any or all of these questions is a resounding ‘Yes' then you could have a listening problem.
What are some of the causes of poor listening?
1) You are too preoccupied
There may be a hundred things you’ve got to do and too little time to do it in. So you tend to always have things on your mind, trying to figure out what you’re going to do when, and as a result, cannot give the person talking to you your full attention.
You may have a tendency to let your mind wander when somebody is talking to you and take off into your own little dream world. Here is somebody telling you about how they’re planning a holiday and you’re already fantasizing about a nice beach and getting a good tan! You just can’t help it!
3) Lack of adequate sleep
If you’re a poor sleeper or keep irregular hours, you could suffer the after-effects in the daytime. When you’re groggy, it is difficult for you to concentrate on events or conversations.
There are some topics of conversation that are just plain boring, or people who talk in a monotone or get into a monologue, and that makes it very difficult for you to be alert to what they are saying.
5) You know it all
Sometimes you think you already know what the other person is going to say before they can even say it. And this erroneous assumption can lead to serious repercussions. It is unfair to your partner or the speaker, to assume that what he/she is going to say is a foregone conclusion. Give him/her the attention they deserve.
6) Thinking of your response
Sometimes, especially in situations of conflict, rather than giving the other person your full attention, you are already thinking up things to say in your defense. As a result, you are blocking yourself off from listening effectively.
7) You love to talk
You enjoy hearing the sound of your own voice or you always have so much to say. So you monopolize the conversation, rarely even taking on the role of listener, forget about being a good one!
Often, events, noises or diversions disrupt effective listening. We tend to get easily distracted with loud music, background noises, other people arguing or the television blaring. These can be major barriers to listening.
9) Unable to hear
And rare is the case where there is a genuine auditory problem. If you figure this out on your own, seek medical help immediately.
But if you have to forge lasting relationships, be it friendship, business or romantic, you have to learn to do what it takes to listen. What can you do?
1) Get a good night’s rest
Sleep early and sleep well. If you have trouble getting to sleep or are a fitful sleeper, there are many tips on enhancing the quality of your sleep. These include avoiding loud music, harsh lights or over-stimulating conversations before going to bed. Taking a warm bath, drinking a glass of milk or meditating before you turn in should ensure a better sleep. If you are rested, you will see the difference in your performance levels, and your interactions with people.
Concentrate on what the other person is telling you. It is important to give the other person your full awareness and consideration to absorb what he/she is telling you. In a conflict, open your mind to what the other person is trying to say, their grievances or hurt feelings, before trying to formulate your reply, justifying your actions. If you truly listen to what the other person is trying to tell you, it may make perfect sense and you may even realize how they were perfectly right to feel the way they did. It is vital to understand before making judgments.
3) Make eye contact
If you are the kind who nods off in the middle of a speech, keep your eyes on the speaker. Or if you are the day-dreaming variety, meet the eyes of the person speaking to you so that you are more inclined to keep your mind on the topic at hand.
4) Give the other person a chance
You may have a lot to say at all times, but consciously stop yourself and take a deep breath. Count to ten, and provide yourself a recovery phase. This will give the other person the much-needed break he/she needs to interject and have their say too.
5) Provide a suitable environment
If you and your spouse are sitting down to a serious talk, one that requires your full concentration, make sure that you eliminate all distractions. It will help to have a quiet room with privacy, which ensures that you will not be disturbed, and preferably away from extraneous influences.
6) Cultivate an interest
Be genuinely interested in what the other person is trying to tell you. If you pay close attention and ask pertinent questions, the speaker will also feel pleased that you are involved and concerned with what he/she is trying to convey.
7) Try and recapitulate
If you have been a participant in an important discussion and are afraid of missing out important content, make mental notes and summarize it. Review the discussion and reiterate key points which will also give your spouse the opportunity to clarify any points that you might have misinterpreted or missed altogether.