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The Art of Listening: Part 1 Are you listening?

Do you ever talk to someone and say “are you listening to me?”

Ok, maybe you’re thinking it?

How often is someone talking to us and we don’t mean not to listen genuinely, but we are so busy preparing a response, or our mind is simply distracted or we heard one thing that has taken our mind on a tangent, that we are no longer really listening in the true sense of the word?

I recently shared a quote to my FaceBook page “We should give people not our advice, but theirs” (S. Silverstein) and included a caption about what it means to be a good listener.

Engagement in my inbox from readers prompted me to write something a little more in-depth.

It made me think that I have just touched the tip of the iceberg of the topic of listening.

I sat at the computer and almost froze as I realised I just gave myself a mission to summarise my years of studying and training as a counsellor into approximately 700-800 words.

When I started out in my course I subconsciously thought I’d be learning some secret to the art of ‘the talking therapy’.

I was interested in the ‘helping’ profession and I guess I wanted to learn its secrets and become consciously skilled.

I soon found out that nearly every unit I studied, whether it be theoretical or practical, somehow found its way back to the concept of ‘active listening.’

Yes, I learnt many skills and theories in both my academic studies and experiential learning, but vividly remember learning in my first unit of study that ’70% of the therapeutic process is attributed to the relationship between the counsellor and client… and this is significantly harnessed through the skill of listening… and some other factors.’

Wow.

Surprised?

Yes. No.

Listening is a huge part of everyday life.

So what is a conversation?

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘an informal spoken exchange between two or more people,’ which means that there is always a speaker and a listener.

Listening is a huge part of everyday communication; whether it be at work, home, with family & friends or in a relationship.

If this is the case, it is uncanny that our education system is structured in a way that we have classes for speaking, reading and writing, but not for listening?!

If you haven’t read Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” it’s a must read!

He effectively sums up poor listening styles into five categories.

1. Spacing out

The mind wonders off as someone is talking and one is caught up in their own thoughts.

This is easy to identify.

The listener is usually not focussed or visibly engaged with the speaker.

2. Pretend listening

This is when one spaces out, but pretends to be listening by throwing in key words in between.

“My cat just died…”

“Ye, that’s cool.”

Sorry mate, that didn’t work.

3. Selective listening

This is when one pays attention to only the parts of the conversation that interest them.

“So because of all that’s going on in my life and to help me relax I joined a Pilates class.”

“Oh I like to exercise every day. I go to the gym regularly and like to walk to work.”

Sorry, again completely missed the point.

4. Word listening

This involves listening to the content, or words spoken but ignoring the attached body language and emotions.

“I really want to start this course in design, but I’m quite nervous about it as I don’t have the time or energy for it.”

“What a great idea. You’re really smart and awesome at design.”

Totally missed the uncertainty and worries regarding this as a viable option.

5. Self centred listening

This one is a classic. This is when one sees everything from their own point of view.

Have you ever been told “Oh I know exactly how you feel because…” or “You think your day was bad, you should hear what happened to me!”

It’s not always so overt and extreme, but the idea is consistent, the listener brings everything back to themselves.

These five categories can overlap and are fluid.

You may be thinking right now, “Wow, I’m a terrible listener.”

Well, guess what? The same thought is going through my head.

We all do these from time to time.

I guess the idea is to become more conscious of these poor listening styles and try to catch ourselves when we are adopting one of these.

Stay tuned for The Art of Listening Part 2: How can I be an effective listener?

Till next time…

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