I often find myself hearing and not listening.
“What’s the difference?” you may ask. It’s simple, really: when you hear someone without listening, you are not invested in them or the conversation; however, when you listen, you are fully invested in them and what they are saying.
I struggled with this for many years. I think it was partly because I got distracted quickly and because I wasn’t confident so I wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes. I soon realised that people won’t open up or talk to me because all I was doing was hearing them and not listening.
I always thought I was a great listener; that people loved to confide in me and open up. I had great friends that trusted me. I was great at leading teams… well, so I thought – until I realised one day that I wasn’t actually great at listening after all. I started feeling isolated. Nothing had really changed, but I just started feeling alone – like no one would talk to me or go out of their way to do so.
I turned to a trusted friend to talk about this, and he asked me a revealing question: “Are you hearing or are you listening?”
It hit me: All my life I was just hearing people. Five minutes after a conversation, I would forget everything we had just spoken about and move on to the next person. It was so bad that I would forget people’s names instantly.
I decided to start a journey of trying to learn to be a better listener. Here are two habits that helped me do so.
1. Remember names
The number one thing to do when trying to be a great listener, is to remember the name of the person you are talking to, and to use it within the conversation. This shows that you value the person. When someone remembers my name I feel like they actually care – and the same principle applies when speaking to someone new. This doesn’t just mean you need to remember their name for five minutes – remember it until you see them the next time, and then use it again. I often struggle with this one because it’s hard for me, but the more you practice, the better you get.
2. Lead the conversation
Another valuable habit is to learn how to ask great leading questions rather than closed questions. If we ask only “yes” or “no” questions, the conversation goes nowhere really quickly; but if we ask questions that invite others to speak and elaborate, it creates great conversations. You also get to know the other person much better.
Listening is a hard thing to do. It’s isn’t something we’re great with naturally, and many of us have to grow into it. Trust me, I’m still learning.
I will tell you this: listening to someone could just change their lives forever!