I’d been married about 20 years, feeling unloved and unimportant when I met a man at one of the workshops I liked to attend.
His name was Bob (not his real name) and we were working in the same group. He appeared to be bowled over by me, a real novelty for me. Nobody had ever been bowled over by me before and my marriage wasn’t exactly conducive to me thinking of myself as an attractive woman.
But that wasn’t the thing that struck me about him. It was that he found me interesting! That was even more of a novelty for me!
Is it any wonder that I fell head over heels in love with him? Well, I didn’t exactly fall in love with him but I did go to bed with him – not because of the sex but because I’d felt lonely and practically invisible for such a long time and here was a man who really listened to me.
The next time I felt truly listened to was years later and Bob had long become a fond memory. The occasion was my training to become a qualified coach.
We did lots of practical coaching exercises. I remember the first one as if it were yesterday. I was the client and we each had 20 minutes to solve a real problem.
The quality of the listening blew me out of the water. Afterwards I hid in the loo and cried, I’m not sure why.
This time I decided not to go to bed with the trainee coach but we did become close friends.
That quality of listening is what I call “love an action”. You can say “I love you” all you want but, if you don’t pay attention to your partner, your child or your friend they won’t believe you.
What listening is not
It is not
- waiting for the other person to stop talking before you can take your turn,
- using the time the other person is talking to plan your reply,
- using the time the other person is talking to plan what you’re going to do this evening,
- giving advice,
- finishing their sentence,
- arguing if you disagree with what they’re saying unless it’s a social conversation.
If you really want to listen well, use your ears, your eyes and your heart.
What does that mean in practice?
How to prepare to really listen
- Remember, just because you know the person really well, don’t assume you know what they’re thinking or feeling,
- Be willing to really hear what they have to say,
- Be willing to listen without judging,
- Be willing to give them space to formulate their thoughts without interrupting or prompting,
- Be willing to unclutter your mind.
How to listen in practice
- Demonstrate your willingness to listen by stopping what you’re doing,
- Concentrate on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, for example, if you’ve asked them how they are and they reply, “I’m fine” with a flat tone of voice, without smiling, making eye contact while looking distinctly dejected you can safely assume they’re not fine at all.
- Look at them even when they’re looking away while talking,
- If they falter, you can say, “tell me more”,
- I’ve been known to say “Stop! Are you saying ….” and paraphrase what I’ve understood. That will ensure you’re both on the same wavelength.
Why listening is so important
Instead of giving you the answers, let’s do something else instead.
Think of a time when you felt truly heard and understood, and ask yourself these 5 questions.
- Who was the person listening to you?
- What were the circumstances?
- How did you feel about them at the time?
- How did you feel about yourself?
- What difference did it make to your relationship?
With love and gratitude
If you liked this blog, please share it with your friends