Reality Check: The Caring Habit of Listening

We have many kinds of relationships. Some we choose, such as with our friends. Others are created through work, volunteering, or other connections. All of our relationships may not be chosen, but they can still be cooperative and functional.
In recent columns, I’ve referred to Dr. Glasser’s list of seven habits to improve relationships. The habits are useful for any relationship, regardless of whether it’s one we’ve chosen or one that we just can’t avoid.
Those habits listed in, “Take Charge of Your Life” are: supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting, and negotiating differences. I’ve been going through them one at a time; this column, it’s time for “listening.”
Listening can be difficult.
It’s easy enough to hear people talk, but to truly listen takes energy and focus. Further, some conversations are harder than others. They’re tiring; negative, complaining; we’ve heard it all before. While that may be true, it’s hard to truly listen if we enter the conversation with that mindset, isn’t it?
Therefore—as with so many situations—it’s useful to start by examining what we want. If what we want is to placate the person by pretending to listen, that’s our choice. It may be the way to go if the conversation is a laundry list of complaints or fears that we can do nothing about or gossipy anecdotes that we find distasteful. There’s no demand to listen carefully to everyone at every time on every topic.
However, if what we want is a close, connected relationship, then listening is a habit worth practicing. Listening can help us get what we want—a better relationship.
To listen—to truly listen—involves more than letting words flow over us while we nod agreeably. Listening requires that we pay attention. And it’s easier and more satisfying to pay attention when we are genuinely interested in what we are hearing, that is, if we are curious.
Author and life coach, Dr. Joel Wade, says: “Curiosity is about exploration and discovery; it creates energy, possibilities, and movement. It also allows us to create relationships, have more empathy, and grow more deeply and delightfully connected with one another.”
I find the “deeply and delightfully connected” part especially appealing, as getting to know someone can be delightful indeed. It can also be disconcerting, disheartening, disappointing, but let’s stick with the upside here.
How to listen? It starts with wanting to hear; staying present in the conversation; and choosing to pay attention.
Genuine curiosity is particularly helpful when discussing a problem. Try listening without giving in to the impulse to provide a solution. Some of us (like me) want to jump in with suggestions and solve the problem! But our solution is not necessarily what our friend is seeking. They may want to talk it out, clarify things for themselves, and reach their own solutions.
When people share reminisces about lost loved ones, we often hear, “I wish I had asked them about…” If you’d like to get to know someone, ask questions. Try open-ended ones, such as “Would you tell me about…” They may respond with yes or no, but a genuinely interested listener can be a highly encouraging audience.
In business and elsewhere, the ability to speak well is prized. The skill and practice of listening is no less valuable.
Do you know someone who is a particularly good listener? What makes them so?

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