"Of course I heard you!"
To say someone is skilled at listening sounds odd. After all we don’t usually say that someone is skilled at walking, or seeing, or even talking so why is listening singled out among many of our human attributes? The answer is that while millions of people communicate with one another every day, what is said and what is heard can often be very different. I’m obviously not talking about walking into your local coffee shop and asking for an espresso and being given a latte, I’m referring to what happens when we’re trying to communicate how we feel about something and how well we experience that feeling being understood by the person to whom we are talking. Prospective counsellors, therapists and psychologists are not immune from this deficit which is why being taught listening skills is one of the most basic elements of their training.
So what’s involved, you may be wondering, in improving ones listening skills? Well here’s a simple exercise. Find another person and sit opposite one another. For about three minutes talk to the other person about something that interests and concerns you, but not something too deep or serious. During the time you are speaking the other person must not interrupt you but when you are finished they should try to accurately repeat what you’ve just said to them. Then it’s their turn with them talking and you repeating back to them what they’ve said to you. After you’ve both finished try and rate each other as to how you felt understood and how you experienced being heard. This exercise can often throw up completely different results than might first have been imagined, both in terms of how well we think we listen to others and how well they listen to us.
The key is to treat the above exercise as a learning experience and to use it as a platform to build upon, rather than as source of upset and frustration. Discovering what it takes to actively listen to another person is a skill and as such requires patience and practice where mistakes and corrections are vital to becoming fully proficient. It may take time but the result will be rewarding at many levels with colleagues, friends, family and especially partners.
Lots of luck.
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