"And that's why God gave us two ears and one mouth"
July 31, 2018 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Good listeners out there - teach me your ways!!

My listening skills are adequate. I catch the facts, and generally understand what people mean. However, often I am impatient and feel an impulse to jump in with some questions and work out where the solutions are. Some people like this approach, but others have expressed exasperation and I guess I should acknowledge that my listening skills are imperfect, and that I would like to improve.

Any certified good listeners out there? What are your tips and tricks? Are there any reputable workbooks out there that I can work through?
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Human Relations (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm like you and I literally shove my tongue against the roof of my mouth to stop taking. I remember that relationships are built through connection and safety, none of which are established by me jumping in and thinking I know things.

I also pay attention to body language, to understand how people feel about what they're taking about. Then I try to acknowledge the feelings instead of the facts.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:20 AM on July 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

The classic trick is to repeat what the other person has said back to them before adding your input (e.g. "it sounds like I should repeat things back to you first").

One exercise I've participated in is to see how long you can go without adding your own thoughts to a conversation, just letting the other person talk, and if they reach a stopping point, asking clarifying questions to get them to talk more. I've seen it done both in terms of time (let them talk for two minutes, or whatever) and number of clarifying questions (you must ask seven follow-ups).

There's an old tip I first saw from Tom Chiarella in Esquire to pause a couple of beats before saying anything. This is a general thing, not specific to listening, but if you find others becoming annoyed with your interruptions, it's something that could slow you down a little bit.

Also on the subject of interruption, you might familiarize yourself with Robert's Rules of Order. It's a pretty formal guideline as to who can talk and when. I still interrupt a lot, but thinking in terms of "who has the floor?" has helped me.

One other thing I do, if the situation allows, is to write down my thoughts instead of interrupting. This is more useful in some situations, like meetings at work, than others. It also allows you to organize and edit your thoughts as well, making you seem smarter. :)
posted by kevinbelt at 11:27 AM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I asked a group of upper year (post-university) students if anyone was a good listener, and one guy raised his hand, and I asked him what he was doing when he was listening to someone speak, and he said that he was mainly simply listening to them, making sure he understood. His focus was on the other person's experience, not his response to what was being said or what the words evoked in terms of his own memories, associations, etc.

I think some of us are more wired or used to using other people's words and stories to extrapolate on and use to make sense of our own experiences more so than others.

I like the book Messages (green cover) but it goes broader than listening.
posted by lafemma at 11:31 AM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you want to practice, my Zen group has a quarterly program called Reflective Listening Buddies that's all about paying attention and really listening to what the other person is saying.
posted by Lexica at 11:32 AM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Being interested in or choosing to be interested in what the other person is saying goes a long way. It's the difference between wanting to hear what that person is saying rather than wanting them to hear what you have to say. And in situations where you get impatient I'd remember that you've essentially just lost interest in what they're saying, that you don't know the details of what they are going to say and that those details might be important to them.
posted by Polychrome at 12:13 PM on July 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's probably far more in-depth than what you're looking for, but Toastmasters significantly improved my listening skills.
posted by kmkrebs at 1:05 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

People who talk about problems are often NOT looking for solutions, but just want to express their feelings out loud and have someone listen. If they're not specifically asking for ways to fix something, it's better to just nod or say uh huh, or maybe say something like, "That sounds frustrating" or "Wow, that would bug me too." Even if they do want advice, sometimes the best thing you can do is ask what their options are. Even if you know for sure what the person ought to be doing to make their situation better, try to completely avoid giving advice or offering solutions.
posted by wryly at 5:44 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't know how effective this may be for you but what one thing I've tried is when listening to someone I'm listening to them as if their words were a song I was analysing critically for a test. Absorbing their rhythms, speeds, cadences and the little nuances to their voice.
posted by CyborgHag at 7:49 AM on August 3, 2018

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