From a young age, society says that in order to have our way in life, we must be heard. We must stand up for ourselves, communicate our boundaries, and voice our concerns.
The people who inevitably communicate the best, according to those around you, are the ones who have the best opportunities. I won’t argue the merits of this because I believe it to be true; if we fail to have our voices heard, we can’t expect much to come our way.
But in our quest to have ourselves understood, we miss one important piece: listening to others.
As much as speaking is a part of great communication, so is listening. Unfortunately, in today’s world, we aren’t taught to be great listeners. A search for today’s best-sellers on communication returns many books geared towards how to become better speakers. But there aren’t many options for listening. Why? Because most of us believe we’re better listeners than we actually are, and think it’s an easy skill that comes naturally.
I’m here to tell you it’s not that easy, and we need to get better at it.
But with a bit of self-awareness and a desire to master the second half of proper communication, we are more than capable of becoming excellent listeners, and in turn can help accelerate our trajectory of success.
What does it take to be an excellent listener? We must not be afraid to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Even when we feel a natural bias and have a strong opinion on something, you must take a step back and understand the other person’s side. When someone feels understood, they in turn become extremely receptive your own thoughts, opinions, and constructive criticisms.
Our brains are full of thoughts, and a lot of them.
The good, the bad, and the ugly race through our three-pound wrinkled mass thousands of times a day. To have thoughts is to be human. We’ll never stop them, and the idea isn’t to.
I find that in today’s society, the problem lies in letting our thoughts become so prevalent, we have a hard time focusing on someone else because we’re inundated within our own heads.
Have you ever been talking to someone, just to see them kind of glaze over as you continue speaking? The kind of situation where if you suddenly stopped mid-sentence, they would continue nodding and saying “uh huh” as if you were still talking? Or the kind of situation where they look past you at something else, as if completely disinterested?
It’s frustrating, and for good reason – we know we aren’t being heard in the moment. I used to be a master of this. My thoughts would race through my mind so fast and so often, people would notice I “checked out” in conversations. If I was asked to repeat the last thing they said, it regularly became a struggle. When person after person complained about my unpopular attention span, I knew something had to change.
The biggest reason I couldn’t focus on the person speaking to me: I wasn’t in the moment. Because my mind was racing with thoughts of the past and the future, I was placing myself just about everywhere but here. No wonder I couldn’t listen to them – it was almost as if I wasn’t in the room!
I began by telling myself that anytime I was entering a conversation with another person, I would let them speak and I would focus 100% of my thought-process toward them. Was I perfect? By no means. My mind would still trail off, but I started catching myself doing it. When I did, I would snap back into the present moment.
For those of you who meditate, this might sound very familiar. Meditation is about catching yourself trailing off and bringing your mind back to the present moment.
Listening to others is really no different.
I would also ask follow-up questions to let them know I was listening. It became somewhat of a fun game — I was concentrating on what tidbits I could pick up from our conversation to make them feel heard and keep the conversations going, and in turn I would learn so many new things about them.
Before you knew it, I began receiving compliments on my ability to listen. On numerous occasions, I’ve talked to strangers for a good 30 minutes, only to have them comment how they barely know my name and where I’m from.
If I can give you one piece of advice, it’s that people can easily tell if you’re listening or not. You can’t fake it or try to outsmart them.
Communication in its most basic form involves talking and listening. So imagine for a minute if all you could hear was your own voice, but couldn’t hear anyone else? It would get annoying fast; we’d feel like we’re talking to a wall. Why is that? Unless someone speaks and someone else listens, there’s no communication. It’s a one-sided conversation.
One of the most important aspects in listening is understanding other people’s point of view. All of us have values that drive our opinions and biases, and we’re very quick to shut someone else down if they aren’t on the same page. This is the number one reason why we have arguments.
In an effort to avoid arguments and aim for a healthy discussion, one must put their ego and biases aside and fully understand someone else before having a chance to communicate your thoughts.
What I can tell you with certainty is that should you cross the threshold of being able to understand people without clear bias, you’ll begin to understand human psychology in a way others haven’t.
Everyone wants to be heard and more importantly, understood. It is an innate desire that is rooted deeply in human connection. @mondayviews (Click to Tweet!)
Once people feel they have a valid connection with someone else, only then will they truly open up and be receptive to your thoughts, vibes, and opinions. And once you’ve established a bond, you have a much more clear path to understand and help each other in a multitude of ways.
Like anything in life, you get what you put in. You can’t expect to be heard if you aren’t doing the hearing yourself. We all love to make our opinions known, but fail to understand other people’s points of view.
So if you find yourself having trouble getting people to listen, start with yourself, for the outside world is but a reflection of what’s going on inside you.
Adam Bergen is the founder of Monday Views, a movement aimed at helping others enjoy each day (including Mondays) by living authentically and having the right mindset. Give your mindset a kick-start by focusing on your morning routines through his free detailed guide. You can find Adam at his website mondayviews.com and on Instagram, Facebook, Medium, and Twitter.
Image courtesy of nappy.