The doctor says, “What can I do for you?”
“I have a really sore throat,” you reply.
“I’m sorry to hear that. OK, I’m going to prescribe a cast for your arm.”
You say, “But my arm is fine. My throat is the problem.”
The doctor says, “Yeah, but I’m really good at casts. It’s a great solution – you just have to trust me.”
How would you feel about that doctor?
We’ve all had at least one experience where a doctor rushed through the exam, gave us a prescription and left. We felt like they weren’t really listening, so we’re not confident in the solution they’ve provided.
It happens in relationships, too. Listening has become a lost art. That’s why it’s so refreshing when someone actually listens to us – like we’ve found an oasis in the middle of the desert. It’s often surprising when it happens, because it happens so infrequently.
Nothing builds a relationship faster than genuine listening. Nothing destroys a relationship faster than being distracted.
We know how it feels when someone listens – how it nourishes our insides and gives us energy to face the day. We feel like we’re not alone in our journey.
The best part? We can do the same thing with everyone we meet. It takes practice, and we have to be intentional. But it can refill a person who has been sucked dry by life.
It’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
So, how can we learn to listen effectively? Here are five intentional steps we can take to become a better listener:
Be focused. Whenever we’re in a conversation, we should put our cell phone completely out of sight. If it’s sitting on a table next to us, it’s almost impossible to ignore it when it vibrates and a text appears on the screen. Sure, we might just glance at it. But it tells the other person that we’re not giving them 100%. It’s a hard habit to break, but it speaks volumes when we absolutely ignore our technology during a conversation.
Be intentional. Casual conversations aren’t all bad, but they’re overused. As we begin a conversation, we should think, “This is an opportunity to have a human moment. If I give it my full attention, we’ll both receive the benefit of the connection.” We consciously pay attention to each other, which builds trust.
Be patient. Never look at your watch or a clock during a conversation. An innocent glance says, “OK, I’m here, but I’m partially focused on what’s coming next.” If you truly are on a tight schedule, tell them exactly what your time frame is when you start talking so they’ll understand. Then, while they’re watching, set the alarm on your phone to go off when it’s time. Turn on the ringer and pocket the phone. They’ll know it’s coming, and you have no reason to check the time until the alarm sounds.
Be curious. First, we listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Then we ask a question that directly relates to what they said. When they answer, we ask another question that came from their answer. The next day, we follow up with an email that asks another related question. That shows we were interested enough to keep thinking after the conversation was over. (It has to be a genuine interest – otherwise, it will come across as an artificial technique. We want to care, not to pretend to care.)
Be positive. When someone shares their opinion, we need to be careful not to minimize their position. Unless they ask, we shouldn’t critique what they’ve said. If they want our thoughts, it’s OK – but we should emphasize that we’re just sharing our perspective. We don’t have to agree with them on everything; we just want to see through their eyes.
People are starved to be listened to. That’s why it impacts them so much when we do it. It takes practice to make it a habit.
But it’s the fastest way to build trust in any relationship.
When have you been listened to . . . and how did it feel? (Comment below)