Sandra sat close to me on the bus. She had this youthfulness in her slender body but her pretty face looked like it was born five years before her body — stress, I thought. She constantly changed her posture from head-on-hand to hand-on-head. I could tell she wasn’t comfortable at least.
“This country is so terrible,” she had murmured, “everything! Everyone!”
People gave her some free seconds’ worth of gaze then returned their eyes to whatever they were doing.
I asked her why she said so — well not that I didn’t know that the country was in a quite difficult state — I wanted to know why she said so; she sounded so broken.
I listened to her talk about how she was planning to flee the country since it was becoming increasingly unbearable. She spoke to me about her PhD degree which had not even been able to secure her a job!
My phone rang. Mum. I ended the call, placed it in silent mode and stabbed my left pocket with it — I planned to call my mum back later on. I apologized for the interruption and pleaded that she proceeded with what she was saying. Sandra spoke about her family, and the expectations her parents had of her as the only child. She went deeper into her relationship. She said she’d had three female children for a pilot who’d promised to marry her. She didn’t know he’d even had a family elsewhere. Sandra told me that she wanted to run amok when she discovered; it made her connect the dots on why they kept making babies yet he had to be “reminded” at every visit that they should get married. She spoke about how tough it was to take care of three kids as a single mother. She talked about how she plied from washing dishes at a local restaurant, 9 am to 3 pm, to working the night shift at a biscuit factory two bus stops away from her residence, from 8 pm till 3 am. She said her mother took care of the kids while she was away at work.
I kept on listening without yielding to the desire to interrupt or stuff her with “helpful” advice. I wanted her to flow. I didn’t want to distract her. I could feel her releasing her age-long bottled-up problems. And I knew giving her my rapt attention would make her feel better afterwards.
Sadly, in the noisy world we live in, silence is a recognized alien. Familiar yet foreign. Society has gradually programmed us to always speak. The quiet ones among us are seen as weak, unresponsive or of little value. We have two ears and a single mouth, yet we act as though our mouth was twice the number of our ears — speaking nearly more than we would listen.
In a TED talk, William Ury gave an account of how listening, without interrupting, to the President of Venezuela made the then-president, Hugo Chavez, eager to ask for advice and hear him out, too. He made it known that listening actively brings out the human nature in the speaking party.
Benefits of Listening
What does listening actively to someone do for them?
- It lightens their accumulated burden.
- It helps them build trust in you.
- It makes them depend on you for possible solutions or referrals to solutions you may offer.
- They become emotionally happy with you. Listening makes them associate positive emotions with you.
The benefits are not limited to just the pleasure of the speaking party. As a listener, you have some things to take away:
- A good listener builds stronger bonds with their speakers than many others would.
- In-depth ideas and perspectives can only be revealed to sensitive and attentive ears.
- Emotional healing is felt in varying degrees in the speaker and the listener as well.
- One who is an active listener builds one’s relevance in people’s minds.
- A clearer understanding of the situation discussed is a lot of a good listener.
- Finally, a good listener is more likeable.
Knowing these benefits which your active listening reveals, how then can we listen more effectively?
- Try to focus on what the person is saying rather than what reply you wish to give.
- Intentionally put off distractions: your devices, an unconscious repeated activity you’re doing — tapping on the table, playing with some handy objects.
- Show gestures that tell you’re following. A nod, uttering a yeah, an I-get-you, an okay, an Uh-huh, for example, are simple ways to encourage the speaker to continue talking; it subconsciously tells the person that you are following.
- Ask questions for clarity. Get to know if what you think they said is actually what they meant to say.
- Wait for the person to finish speaking before you chirp in what you have to say. Apply the 3:1 rule of their speaking vs your speaking ratio. On average, let them speak three times more than you should speak. Remember, it’s their talk, not a timed question and answer session.
Communication involves both speaking and listening, yet we often starve the latter. This decreases the value of our communication generally.
We can deliberately improve our listening skills by showing we care to listen, maintaining good eye contact while resisting distractions, showing affirmative responses to encourage them to go on, and asking questions only after they have finished delivering an idea rather than cutting them during their speech.
Actively listening builds bonds, improves relationship, reliability and trust with the speaking party. It is one of the most vital skills in all forms of dialogue.
Action Plans For Smarter Thunders
- Try putting away your phone while listening and putting off notifications or turning down the volume. Never, I repeat, never pick up a call when a person is still speaking with you. It passes a message that you’re rude or whatever the person is saying is not that important. This may even hurt their feelings the most. If, however, you must pick up the call, you should do so with respect: raise a finger to them and tell them, “please, excuse me,” and when you finish the call, apologize for the necessary interruption and plead that they continue speaking. Show some manners to someone who is pouring his or her heart out to you.
- Resist the urge to give your advice or suggestions while the person is still speaking. Ensure the person has slowed down to an end before you do so. Be conscious of this. Most people interject at the worst of times. Avoid that habit.
- When you want to say something, try rephrasing or summarizing what you think they said and wait for them to ascertain if that’s the idea they wanted to pass or that you misunderstood them. Do this as often as possible before giving your reply or comment to ensure total understanding and a sound flow of thought.
- Avoid changing the topic of what they’re trying to pass across; be smart when you want to make a relation to something familiar you’ve witnessed. Don’t go off track discussing something that is not even in the context of what your speaker is delivering. You can only get better at this when you adjust your focus from what you want to say next, to what they are currently saying. And remember, no judging. No breathing being is perfect. Consider them strong enough to even open up to someone and not the other way around.
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