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Tag Archives: Benefits of Listening

Mar
25

Of all the ills that beset mankind in the 21st century, the cruelest must be Alzheimer’s disease. It robs its victims of the most precious gift of advancing age – the companionship of family and friends – by taking away the ability to have meaningful conversations.

Modern research is focused on finding the causes and perhaps a cure for or at least a way to lessen or postpone the advancement of Alzheimer’s, but it has been with us for a very long time. In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare describes our return to “second childishness and mere oblivion” as we age.

Amid the challenges and frustrations of daily caregiving for spouses or parents or grandparents suffering from dementia, it is important to take the time to follow them on their conversational journeys. The first step is to let go of your own need to keep them connected to the real world or grounded in the present.

Does it really matter that your mom thinks you are your sister, and talks like you’re not in the room? Depending on family dynamics, it might be hurtful, but what is there to be gained from an argument? Nothing but resentment on your part, since she won’t understand – or remember.

Instead, take a deep breath and think back to the patience she had when you were just learning to talk, listening to you tell the same story over and over until you got it right (for you). Maybe she even held conversations with your imaginary friends, because she knew they were real and important to you.

It may be time to return the favor, and use your active listening skills, your empathy and understanding, to let her know you’re there, no matter when or where she thinks that is. She may not appreciate it, but in the long run, you will.

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Mar
6

A properly planned and executed meeting can be an excellent way to communicate information and share ideas. But many employees dread them as unproductive time sinks — and they might be right. Research shows that half of the hours spent in the 11 million business meetings that happen every day in the United States is actually wasted on off-topic discussions. One of the most common time-wasters are people who won’t listen without making assumptions about what the speaker is saying, and insist on interrupting and offering advice without fully understanding what the speaker needs. If an individual with poor listening skills is allowed to hijack a discussion, the result can be a ripple effect of negativity on an entire team.

Imagine that, in the weekly meeting, a member of a team voiced concern that her current project seemed to have hit a wall. Before she could finish describing the problem, however, another member jumped in with a lengthy monologue about how he had solved similar problems in the past and just had to have the last word — all related to his experience, not to the project at hand.

The junior member soon stopped trying to talk, frustrated and without a resolution. Meanwhile, the rest of the group had turned their attention to emails, texts and other activities, because they knew that once this person had the floor, there was no hope of arriving at any useful decision.

The first step to avoiding this worst-case scenario is to start the meeting with all electronic devices stacked on the table, to be touched only to research a point relevant to the discussion. That will keep everyone invested in listening to everyone else and offering relevant input.

In our example, the manager should bring the conversation back to the junior member by asking how the group could help her, including the senior manager, who has already offered his ideas. Anyone running a meeting has the authority of the chair to provide a platform to anyone who might feel they are not being heard. When everyone can both express themselves and truly listen, any meeting can become more productive.

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Feb
18

Listening Effectively at WorkIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you likely spend time thinking about how to be a better listener for your friends and family, because you truly care about how they feel and want to help them talk through important issues. But if you’re like most of us, you spend more time at work, which may or may not be with family — or friends.

That doesn’t make active listening any less important. In fact, poor communication in the workplace can have a major impact on the growth and success of the organization.

Think about your last staff meeting. Can you remember what was decided or something important that you learned? Or do you remember checking your lunch plans or texting snarky remarks about how the boss was droning on?

You’re not alone. Nearly three-quarters of professionals surveyed by Wolf Management Consultants admitted to doing unrelated work in meetings; more than a third said they had actually dozed off. So it’s fair to say that they were not actively engaged in listening.

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about a poorly run meeting, although you can use supportive listening techniques to enhance your communication with clients, peers and anyone else in the workplace.

Give whoever is speaking your full attention by making eye contact and turning away from distractions like pinging messages. Let the person know you are following what they are saying through nods and affirmations. Don’t interrupt, and don’t get sidetracked thinking up your response before they’ve finished speaking.

If the conversation is difficult or delicate – say, with an unhappy employee or a disgruntled customer – it can be helpful to repeat or paraphrase what you think you heard so that both parties understand they are on the same page before continuing.

Surprisingly, sometimes that’s all it takes to resolve an issue: Letting someone know that you are really, truly listening and trying to understand.

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Jan
25

Did you know that the right to be heard is one of the fundamental human rights recognized by the United Nations? It was spelled out in 1989 as Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child — children have a right to express their views on decisions that affect them and have those views taken seriously in accordance with their age and maturity.

Not surprisingly, Save the Children and UNICEF found in 2011 that this article has been the most difficult to implement, even after more than 20 years of effort. While the UN says it is not possible to claim other rights without a voice, traditions in cultures around the world weigh heavily against grownups really listening to kids, let alone taking what they say seriously.

Think about some of our common Western ideas: Children should be seen and not heard. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t talk back to your elders. Teenagers aren’t interested in what adults have to say.

Doesn’t sound like the basis for an open dialog, does it? So it shouldn’t be a shock that the latest research shows that the best way for parents to develop a healthy relationship with their children is to listen to them.

Whenever you talk with young people, take the time to really hear what is behind their questions — do they really want to know “where babies come from” or whether the family ever moved into a new house? Give them space to form their thoughts without interruption or correction. Never make them feel silly or ashamed of asking questions just because you think you know the answers. And don’t assume you know where the conversation is going — you just might learn something new.

If you carry these rules over into conversations with adults, you will become a better listener, no matter who is speaking.

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Dec
21

I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
— Ernest Hemingway

One of the great mysteries of this life is why more people don’t listen to each other. There is so much to learn when others share their thoughts and feelings and views of the world. But most of us are too distracted by outside stimuli or our own inner dialog to pay real attention to what other people have to say.

When something is in short supply, it immediately gains in value. In today’s world, people willing to take the time to listen carefully, fully, and non-judgmentally are extremely hard to find. Yet anyone who has received the precious gift of being heard completely will never forget the experience – it is as wonderful as it is rare.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. 
— Bryant H. McGill

Active, supportive listening is one of the greatest acts of compassion a human being can commit. It is not a random act of kindness. It is focused and intentional and creates a lasting good that perhaps only the speaker can truly understand. It is truly one of the most powerful forces on earth.

Too often we underestimate the power a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
— Leo Buscaglia

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Dec
16

At this time of year, it seems everyone wants to look back and pick his or her annual Top 10 list. Movies, books, fashion trends, news stories, scandals – if there’s more than a dozen things in a category, someone somewhere is going to rank the Top 10.

A poll by the MLive Media Group in December 2011 found the most popular New Year’s resolution for 2012 was “to lose weight,” followed by “spend more time with family and friends,” “get out of debt,” and “quit smoking or drinking.” (On New Year’s Day, Time magazine included those among the top ten resolutions most likely to be broken!)

LINK: Top 10 Commonly Broken New Year’s Resolutions 

A goodly percentage of people say they don’t make resolutions but still strive to make improvements in their lives or behavior on an ongoing basis.

Why not resolve to become a better listener in 2013?

Here are our Top 10 suggestions on where to start:

  1. Listen more, talk less.
  2. Be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying.
  3. Don’t interrupt with your own story.
  4. Occasionally repeat or rephrase what you are hearing for the benefit of the speaker.
  5. Think before offering criticism or giving advice.
  6. Be open for what you may elicit – stay with it. Stay open.
  7. Listen to the silence between the words.
  8. Whatever is said, offer sincere thanks for the giver’s willingness to tell you the truth.
  9. Laugh when you see the humor….and you’re pretty sure the other person will too!
  10. Learn what to let go of and when.

What changes would you make to improve your own listening habits?

Let us know in the comments section.

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Sep
7

Airplanes offer a unique opportunity for a positive listening experience. Not only are they one of the few public places not yet filled with cellphone shouters, they also place us in close, nearly intimate, proximity to our seatmates for hours. And unless you’re traveling to an industry convention or a secluded resort, there’s a good chance you’ll never see the person next to you again.

The next time you find yourself sharing an armrest with a complete stranger, forget what your mother always told you. Instead of sticking in the earbuds, try striking up a conversation. A neutral comment about the weather, getting to the airport, your destination can signal a willingness to talk; following up with a question will let you know if your seatmate is also interested in talking. If not, respect his or her privacy and read your SkyMall.

If the person next to you wants to interact, remember the first rule of good conversation: “It’s better to be interested than interesting.” Decide to listen totally to the other person. Be attentive, make eye contact, and acknowledge that you are hearing the other person without judgment. Don’t interrupt, don’t think ahead to what you’ll say next, don’t overshare. Ask more questions, make fewer statements.

Remember, a real conversation is a two-handed game. If you start small and listen with an open heart and an open mind, you may find that by the time you touch down, you have both had a transformational experience.

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Aug
23

“To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It’s a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued.” – Deborah Tannen

Social media has brought people together like no other technological advancement in history. The paradox of this increased connectivity is that many of us feel less deeply connected to other human beings. We share information, but we rarely have meaningful conversations about our complex feelings online.

As humans, we need to share our ideas, our problems, our relationships, to help sort out the good and bad about our journey through life. Philosophers, psychiatrists, spiritual teachers, writers, artists — anyone who has ever had a best friend or an understanding grandparent — all know the value of having someone to talk to openly and freely, in complete confidence.

“One person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider a problem, can change our whole outlook on the world.” — E. H. Mayo

Such a confidant has our complete, unconditional trust. He or she listens to us when we need to be heard, to help us find the answers and knowledge locked away within us. Speaking to a confidant can be personally transformative, as we let our thoughts and feelings out into the world with another caring human being who will keep them — and us — safe and secure.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” — Karl Menninger

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