Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX
It is an obvious fact of life that people are much more interested in being “listened to” than we are to “listen to” someone else. But at work and at home, there are times when we need to listen well and listen intentionally. But listening well doesn’t come naturally to most of us. It is a skill, or an art, that requires patience and practice.
The first step to better listening is to deal with our own anxiety. Learning to relax, slow down and focus can be assisted by any number of mindful techniques, such as meditation, focused breathing or centering prayer. These techniques, when practiced regularly, have been shown to actually rewire our brains and allow us to focus more intently throughout the day in all situations.
Listening well also involves practicing what are called “attentive listening” skills, including appropriate feedback and positive body language. Turning your body towards the speaker, making appropriate eye contact, occasional nods, and the universal head tilt are all ways to signal that you are listening and understanding. It’s also important to keep our brains from running ahead and formulating comments before the speaker has finished. I have found that running a “simultaneous translation” in my head helps me to focus on listening rather than speaking.
Curiosity is also a great skill to cultivate to improve your ability to listen. Ask questions that increase your understanding. Use mirroring statements (What I hear you saying is…) and leading questions (What would happen if…) to draw out more information and assure the speaker that you are truly listening and engaging.
While listening well can be a reward in itself, increasing your knowledge, creating feelings of goodwill, and assisting others, it’s also worth remembering what author Doug Larson has written “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” (Meditations for Living in Balance)