Yesterday was #TimeToTalk Day. Sorry I’m a day late with this post.
Mental health problems affect one in four of us, yet too many people are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless because of this. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives.
Oh, most of us know how to talk, yes? But how many people know how to listen? Actively listen? Well, from my personal and professional experiences — very few, so that’s our topic for today — Listening Skills.
Hands up — as you’ve been telling your ‘story’, who’s had someone butting in with “Oh, my gran’s neighbour’s youngest granddaughter is…………. “?
Ffs — I don’t know their gran, I don’t know their neighbour and I neither know nor care what the heck granny’s neighbours youngest granddaughter is, does or bloody well thinks.
My mum’s great at that one, “Oh remember wee Grettel doon the road from thirty years ago? Oh, maybe thirty three or four. Well…….” she puffs in response to me just telling her I’ve had a cough and a sore throat.
Me, eyes rolling, “No mum. I don’t.”
“Och you do. Her mum was …………. Well, anyway, her wee boy’s best pal’s mum went into hospital with a cough she couldnae get rid of and bless her, she passed away. She was only in there for three days. Poor wee boy, eh?”
“Aha (means yes in Scotland) mum.” Moving on quickly —
See, when I’m telling my ‘story‘, particularly when I’ve been asked to tell it i.e. mum says “How are you?”, I want to tell it, without interruption and be heard and properly listened to. Mum might get the hint when I show her this next bit:
Common mistakes we make while ‘listening‘
While it’s good to talk and be open about mental health, you might agree that not everyone listens effectively. Common mistakes we make while we’re supposed to be ‘listening’:
- We’re distracted i.e watching or answering our phones, texting etc or perhaps we’re chasing small children around or we’re eying up the candy at the next table 😉
- We daydream — we’re gazing out of the window or around the room/cafe/bar and not looking interested in the other person’s ‘story’.
- We’re rehearsing our response — thinking of how to answer, thinking about what we’re going to say next, “maybe I’ll say something funny?” to take away the tension.
- We mind read — we make assumptions about what the other person’s thinking and feeling or what they’re going to say next and we interrupt – “Oh, I know what you’re gonna say.”
- We filter —we zone in on the points that diminish someone’s argument, so we can say they’re wrong and make our own arguments right.
- Placating — telling the other person “Yes, I agree. He is a pig.”without putting in an effort to hear the whole ‘story‘ and understand. And remember, while it’s okay for someone to miscall their mum/boyfriend/partner, it’s not okay for you to do it.
- Judging — we’re making up our own opinion of a friend/person, their ‘story‘, their argument i.e if you think of the person as a know-it-all, it might stop you from listening.
- Debating — you can’t listen if you’re interrupting, arguing, and disputing everything.
- Derailing — interrupting and bringing the focus back to what you want to discuss or because you don’t want to tackle a tough conversation.
- Advising — jumping in and offering solutions before they’ve got to the end of their ‘story’ – they might have solved it already and just want you to listen.
People often tell me I’m a good listener and sometimes I really wish I wasn’t.
A friend in Spain starts off with “Ello darlin’. How are you?” and without stopping to breathe, he starts “I’ve had such a busy day……..” then goes on to explain everything in minute detail. He tells me where he’s been, whether he was driving or walking and what he’s done, which could take him twenty minutes plus. And I sit there nodding, smiling and doing the “uh huh” thing and “Ahh” while maintaining good eye contact — until he stops!
You might have gathered by now that I see listening as so much more than just hearing. Listening is what happens when we not only open our ears, but also open our minds – and sometimes our hearts – to another person. Listening is not a passive skill. Listening is an active skills that not everyone has — true but, trust me, it’s easily learned. We’ve already looked at poor and passive listening.
So, what is active listening?
The 7 key active listen skills according to the Centre for Creative Leadership:
- Be attentive. Look interested and give good eye contact – you don’t need to stare at a person, just look long enough so they see you’re interested – try not to stare into the person’s eyes, just above the nose is a good place.
- Ask open-ended questions like “Tell me what’s happening with/for you.” or “Tell me what the matter?” and let them speak, uninterrupted. Don’t ask Yes and No questions like “Are you upset? or “Is there a problem?” because you’ll probably get a sharp yes or no in response.
- Ask probing questions like “I’m interested to hear, tell me more.” or “How did that make you feel?”
- Request clarification like “I’m not sure I understand, can you explain a bit more?” or “I’m not quite sure I get that last bit, do you want to repeat it?”
- Paraphrase – perhaps say “What I heard was ………….., did I get that right?” repeat back to them in your own words.
- Be attuned to reflect feelings – determine the feelings and emotions in a person’s verbal and body language and state those feelings back to the person.
- Summarise – you might say something like “Okay, so what you’ve said is this, this and this. Am I right so far?”
Effective listening is something you can do with everyone you come across i.e. family, friends, partners, children, colleagues etc. Good listening encourages the speaker to feel considered and valued and hopefully you’ll gain something from the conversation.
Apart from the practical benefits, being an active listener is important for aspects of your social life. Relationships where someone talks all the time and never listens to you aren’t well balanced at all. Reciprocation is necessary for any good relationship – a mutual exchange during the conversation. If someone’s talking at you without listening in return, you’re unable to develop a meaningful, healthy and mutually beneficial relationship. Ditto if you’re doing all the talking.
What might you take away from this post? Do you recognise yourself in the common mistakes section or do you see yourself as an active listener?
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” — Larry King