Really listening is something that seems to have fallen out of favor or at least something that we are no longer actively taught how to do. The phrase “Think before you speak” seems to have been turned into “Scream louder then the other person”. But having a realy meaningful dialoge with people, most of all people you might disagree with, has become more important then ever.
Listening requires a surprising amount of focus and is something that we all need to actually learn how to do better, myself included. While there are things that I fundimentally disagree with, there is more of a grey area then we think in a lot of topics. Educating yourself means listening to all points of view in order to come up with solutions to societies problems. This all starts with us as individuals, and us as a nation, remembering that we are talking to another person who has reasons for their view points. We as individuals are not as important as the collective good and the collective good means being able to interact in a positive way with others that we can learn from.
This can be anything from learning how to bridge the political divide to understanding why your parents did what they did when you were a child. Learning to listen takes time, patience and alot of self reflection but there are a few things that we can remember when we are starting out.
Things to remember:
Social media is not a conversation.
A DM is not a conversation. A comment on face book is not a conversation. When people started talking on phones they were worried about what we were losing with face to face contact. Imagine how much more we lose when we are in someone’s DM’s. Be aware of this and acknowledge that for real discourse to happen, face to face is still the best. You are almost never going to get a positive reaction or have a meaningful conversation on Instagram the way you would sitting across from another person.
Let convo go: Go with the flow of the conversation.
AKA : Don’t think about your response to what they are saying. One of the weird things that we do as people is to think about our answer while another person is still talking. This takes the focus away from them and while you are busy trying to think of how you are going to respond, you are missing out on very important things that they might be saying or feeling. To truely give someone your attention, you can not be thinking of yourself and what you are going to respond. Instead focus on them and the point that they are trying to make, no witty retort ready and certainly no comment to basically cut them off at the end
Have a conversation, not a debate
This leads back to the last point but also is one all in its own. You dont need to be ready to fight in a conversation. A conversation shouldn’t always be about proving your point. You really dont have to prove anything in a conversation. This goes to asking questions, trying to understand the other person and finding out where they are coming from. It means not trying to solve your friends problems and instead just letting them get it out.
People dont have a huge attention span. We can blame this on the 24 hour news cycle or media, but the truth is that humans really never have. Why do you think that commercials are so short? Yes its because of ad time verse payment but it also has a lot to do with the fact that people aren’t going to sit there and watch a full minute. If you are trying to talk about a topic, you don’t have to tell a whole story around it (I am so guilty of this). Make your story as brief as you can. Don’t get lost in unimportant details.
Ask open ended questions
Can we talk about how much I love asking questions? And getting asked questions? I can not even describe how much of a turn on it is to be on a dating app even and having someone ask you real questions! Questions let the person you are asking know you have been listening and are interested. As the talker it lets you know what is important to your listener. Make sure your questions are open ended. For example: Instead of asking “Did you see that chair?” Which can be answered “yes” or “No” ask “What did you think of that chair?” Which requires more then one word. This opens the conversation up to take on a life of its own. Plus when you ask questions, people love to talk about themselves. Its hardwired into us.
If people love talking about themselves, they HATE being lectured. It is an instant turn off. Even if you are making the best point in the world, if you are lecturing someone, they are most likely going to tune you out. This means talking “at” them instead of with them. If they can not respond to what you are saying, its hardly a conversation is it? Unless someone asks you for a lesson, they are most likely not looking for one.
If you don’t know something, say that you don’t know.
Another massive turn on in every way. I love when people say they don’t know something instead of pretending they do in general or off of one article. If you don’t know about coral bleaching, and I don’t expect you to, why not say you don’t know instead of pretending? You might think that you sound like you know what you are talking about but I can almost guarantee whoever you are faking it to knows you don’t know. For some reason it has become shameful to not know something in our culture instead of taking the time to learn. When I don’t know something but also don’t want a lecture about that I often say something like “Oh that’s interesting. I haven’t heard of that before. I will definitely have to look into it.” Problem solved and now I have something new to learn.
Put your devices away
Not just not look at them. Fully away. Studies have been preformed where a researcher came in and placed a cell phone on the table in between two people having a conversation. It didn’t belong to either person, it never rang or vibrated…nothing but both parties came out saying that the other person was unresponsive, unempathetic and unlikeable. Just the mere presence of a device change their perception of the conversation.