It’s day 3 of the Live Your Legend improve your writing habits challenge – the writing prompt today is: what do people thank me for?
I’m consistently thanked for listening to others and making an effort to understand what they are trying to say. Which is interesting in two main ways. First off, despite all my bright ideas, creative abilities, positive energy, and desire to offer helpful advice, people around me tend to find it most helpful when I just shut the hell up and first try to understand what is going on with them. And second, it’s the effort to try and understand that I’m really getting thanked for. The perspective I’ve developed over years of professional experience as well as in my study and practice of Zen is nice and all – but when I’m trying to help others that stuff doesn’t really seem to matter. The thanks come from giving a damn and for trying to understand the other persons point of view.
The Art of Listening
I figured that since people seem to appreciate my ability to listen, I’d offer up a few pointers on how I approach listening along with some tips that you may find useful as you work on improving your own listening skills.
Calm down and quiet your ego – it’s about them, not you!
When I want to listen to someone the first thing I do is chill myself out. Any needs, wants, or ego-driven thoughts get put on hold. Why? I want to give the person speaking to me the physical and mental space to express themselves. They can’t do this if I’m jumping up and down like a kid waiting to pee ready to blurt out 100 ideas at a mile a minute the moment they stop to take a breath.
One trick I use is to practice conscious breathing – the kind that I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “Peace is Every Step”. In order to make this work you have to breathe consciously in the moment you are listening – as opposed to being seated in meditation. True – it’s harder to do this in the real world – and it takes practice – but it’s worth it. You will need to learn to bring your meditation out into the real world if you want to use the fruits of your enlightenment to help others.
Take notes and clarify what you hear
Don’t try to see the big picture while in the moment – just listen and write down what you hear. Don’t worry about organizing the notes in some intelligent manner while listening, and don’t try to frame them into some sort of general problem statement either. Just write down what you hear and when the person is done talking take a moment to review what you wrote down by saying something like “Thanks for sharing with me, would you mind letting me reiterate what I just heard you say”. I’m constantly surprised at how much this simple act helps.
It helps if you actually care
Show the person speaking you care by asking thoughtful clarifying questions. For example, if someone tells you they don’t like going to the supermarket, don’t just ask “why not?”. Instead, think about a few reasons why they might not like those visits based on what they are saying and then ask something like “do you dislike the supermarket because you find it uncomfortable there?”. That’s still a fairly generic question – but it’s likely the person speaking will intuitively find this more caring which will allow you to take the discussion to a deeper level.
Use empathy, spare the sympathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Sympathy is feeling pity and sorrow for someone. Understanding someone’s feelings and helping them do something positive and useful about those feelings is great. Feeling sorry for someone and allowing them to feel sorry for themselves should never be our goal. Why? Feeling sorry for ourselves or others doesn’t improve things – it allows us to accept something we don’t actually want to accept. This is a form of giving up with an acceptable excuse and if you read my last post you would know that I think this should be avoided at all costs.
Your credentials will bring them, but it takes more to keep them
My professional and personal accomplishments are one of the main reasons people seek me out for advice and help. As I’ve said before, in order to help others you first have to be strong for yourself and your family. I think most of us understand this intuitively which is why we seek out people we see as successful for advice or help. What I’ve found over the years, is that while my credentials bring people to me, they do little to keep them coming back. Why? Because it’s about them, not me. If I can’t listen to the person who came to me and actually do something helpful or useful for them, then I’m of no use and shouldn’t expect a repeat visit.
Let me know what you think!
I hope you found my tips on listening useful and incorporate them into your listening game immediately. I understand that many of these tips sound simple but can be difficult to effectively use. If you have any questions or thoughts you are more than welcome to leave a comment here and I’ll be sure to reply to you.