There are many types of listening, and I would like to put them into two types for the purpose of this post:
1) Listening to help – This is the most common type of listening. We have a lot of “helpful” people out there, with every intention to speak to contribute to the conversation.
2) Listening to know – This is the less common type of listening, where the listener is open to not knowing and attends fully to what the speaker is saying. This is also known as active listening.
There’s a big difference between the two.
There are just too many conversations of the first type, and many times, you just get tired of them after some time. This is the type of listening where people listen without truly listening – they already have set judgments in their minds with all the good intentions to help. They would give their advices, assuming that what’s good for them must be good for you.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Many times, good intentions is a hit and miss thing, and gets in the way of providing real value to the conversation. I’m pretty sure you can think of many instances where you wished that the people who knew you would stop assuming anything and just listen to you. How did you feel in all those instances? It’s not that you weren’t appreciative of their advices and good intentions, but they just weren’t very useful, were they?
There’s obviously something missing.
I long for more of the second type of conversation. ‘Listening to know’ is not for the sake of collecting information, but to see and hear the person for who he/she really is.
I remember those rare conversations, when my listener gave me the space and time to speak. His/her agenda is to know me, hear me for who I really am. After hearing me out, the advices that my listener gives are often spot on and truly helped!
Often times, my need was to be heard, not necessarily to be helped. At those times, I already know what to do to help myself, but lacked the courage and support I needed to move on the inside. (See my recent post “I See You”)
How do you Practice Active Listening?
Elsewhere in this blog, I’ve written that there are two key ingredients for effective active listening:
1) Calmness – Imagine you’re trying to clear a muddied pond of water. To gain clarity, you won’t help by trying anything to remove the mud. In the same way, your intention of trying to be helpful in conversations will cloud your mind to really see the other person and the real issue. There is nothing to do, but to simply let the water (and your mind) settled until it’s clear.
2) Curiosity – What if you could talk to familiar people with the same curiosity of getting to know someone new you’re really interested in? What if you could pay the same level of attention and intensity as though talking to an interesting stranger? We all have people in our lives that are close and familiar with us but hardly know us very well. When listening, it’s good to practice not knowing and cultivate deep curiosity. Assume nothing and you’d be surprised of what new discoveries can surface during conversations.
Calmness and curiosity must precede any help you attempt to give. Only then, you can bring real value into the conversations for the other person.
- When was the last time you talked to someone who really listens to you? How did you feel? What did he/she do very well?
- Are you listening to help or to know, usually? How aware are you of your listening?
- How can you cultivate calmness and curiosity in your listening?