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Listen up: The proven method for better relationships
Most people consider themselves to be pretty good listeners. They can sit silently while other people talk for hours. But there’s more to listening than just not talking. Listening is something you have to do actively if you’re going to be successful at it.
Active listening is what we call listening when you’re not just waiting for your turn to talk. It’s also the kind of listening you can see.
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When people are actively listening, they’re engaged in the conversation with their whole body. They lean forward to pay close attention, they use natural pauses to ask questions, or to encourage the speaker. Sometimes they even unconsciously mimic the actions of the person they’re listening to.
Now, being a good listener allows you to reap a whole host of benefits. People who actively listen to those around them have easier communication with others. And easier communication leads to less misunderstanding, and a healthier relationship.
There are two ways we actively listen: Listening to build a connection, and listening to bear witness. Sometimes we call listening to bear witness “holding space” for one another (or “listening to serve”).
Listening to build a connection
Listening to connect—or listening to build—is the type of active listening most people know about. It’s when we hear what someone has to say, and then we add to it. And then they add to what we’ve said, and so on, back and forth. We may be adding information, or adding perspective, but we’re putting pieces together for the purpose of communicating and developing ideas.
When you practice this with someone else it looks like: A conversation. Maybe you’re comparing and contrasting your experiences with a friend, “Oh gosh, that happened to me once and I know how hard it is.” or “In my experience, when X happens, Y follows.” Or maybe you’re contributing expertise to a group discussion. You’re taking what someone else is saying, and building on the idea it signifies. It also might look like “building a brick wall.” We like this visualization because each person takes turns putting down a brick, and together, by connecting your bricks, you are building something, and building connection. (And by the way, we don’t alter, insult or reject the other person’s brick). In the world of improvisation, this is how we ‘build stories.’
When you practice this with yourself it looks like: A life lesson. You could be reflecting on your past, and how it affects this moment. That could be as big or as small as necessary. “Chocolate cake makes me feel better and I feel horrible so I’m going to eat cake and feel better” is a valid way of listening to connect with yourself. It could also look like writing a story, or figuring a problem out on your own.
Listening to bear witness
Listening to bear witness, or hold space, is an entirely different kind of active listening. You don’t always have to add information, and this is one of those times. This is an extremely effective way of showing compassion. This isn’t about YOU, it’s about the person who you’re listening to. This kind of act of acceptance can be very empowering for any and all parties involved.
When you practice this with someone else it looks like: “Being there” for someone. Holding a friend while they cry, sitting with someone while they’re in the hospital, listening without judgement as a “sounding board” for someone who needs to vent. When listening to witness, hearing and accepting the other person is all you need to do. There is no judgment, no offer to fix or add. You simple listen, smile, and stay 100 percent present.
When you practice this with yourself it looks like: Meditation, or mindfulness work. Journaling about your day or your emotions is also an effective way of holding space for yourself. You might repeat mantras, or count to ten when you’re upset. It’s interpreting what you need, and accepting that about yourself without judgment. It’s being 100 percent present for yourself.
When was the last time you really listened to yourself? I try to listen to myself a little bit every day, and I encourage you to do the same. In fact, I’ve included a few examples of simple ways I practice listening to myself, to help you plan a practice that works with your schedule and your lifestyle.
- Ask yourself a few questions, and listen to your body’s response. Sit with yourself for 5 minutes, and focus on what your body is telling you it needs.
- Take deep breaths, and ask yourself how you really feel. Journal about it for ten minutes, or another set amount of time.
- Wake up early and set an intention for your day. Visualize what achieving it would look and feel like.
- Check-in on your needs, so you can set yourself up for success. What are your plans? What obstacles might you face, and how would you overcome them?
- Create a personal mantra that helps you affirm yourself. Find one that helps you feel safe, or happy, and focus on it for five minutes.
However, you choose to listen to yourself, make a habit of it. By building the habits of actively listening, you’ll be able to build stronger, more meaningful connections—both with yourself and others.
We would love to hear your thoughts and your experiences of incorporating this practice into your daily life. Make sure to drop into the Be Brave Community and let us know how you get on.
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