How to Be a Better Listener
if you’ve read the story about our beginning, then you know this organization was founded on creating more authentic conversations. This doesn’t mean that you go out of your way to seek somebody out who is different from you and then get to know them. We are talking more about getting to know people in real time and being kind. Taking a moment to realize that we are all socialized and have preconceived notions about strangers, but making an effort to drop our judgments and really get to know humans for who they are as God intended. Not what they look like or where they’re from.
An example of what we mean by this can be seen in a very real conversation we had with one of our Sharers. This particular Sharer was struggling with feeling like an outcast due to their disability. We had been talking with them for a few days when this topic entered its way into the conversation:
We are truly just advocating for active listening over passive listening. This includes topics that may take us out of our comfort zone, which may mean discussing subjects you have limited experience in. This could be about mental health, relationships, financial situations, differing abilities, and more. Since you may not know how to have conversations about these things, step one is learning how to listen to those who want to talk about them. This will help you get to know the person you are talking to for who they really are, not just what they look like.
According to Giftoflifeinstitute.org,
Passive listening is listening without reacting: allowing someone to speak, without interrupting. Not doing anything else at the same time, and yet not really paying attention to what’s being said. Passive listening is one-way communication where the receiver doesn’t provide feedback or ask questions and may or may not understand the sender’s message.
Active listening includes responses that demonstrate that you understand what the other person is trying to tell you about his or her experience. This is a communication technique that’s very different from the passive or unfocused listening that we often adopt in everyday conversation.
When you accurately reflect back to a person what’s been said, you show that you’ve been listening—not just hearing—and that you genuinely understand the feeling/s or message/s they are trying to convey. This creates an environment that allows the speaker to go deeper, and sometimes even to come to new realizations. It’s the basis for trust and respect. It’s also the foundation you need to better serve both donor and recipient families.
Now that you know about active listening, check out these tips to help you sharpen your listening skills to fulfill our mission: Listen to love everyone, everywhere.
1. Listen to genuinely learn about a person. Not to just be polite.
When somebody is speaking to us, we often feel obligated to listen in order to fulfill a social norm. Why is that? Think for a moment. Can you recall a time that someone began chatting with you, and you only listened to be polite? Take that to the next level. Next time you are chatting with someone, lean into their words and tune in.
Listening is good, but the intent has to be curiosity, not generosity. True dialogue does not happen when we pretend to listen, and it certainly cannot happen if we are not listening at all.” says Ajit Singh, partner for the early stage venture fund Artiman Ventures and consulting professor in the School of Medicine at Stanford University.
If you’ve had a conversation with somebody and walked away without learning anything, you may want to check your listening skills and intentions. This leads me to tip #2.Check your assumptions. Are you anticipating the conversation?
If you are already positive that you know what the person is going to say, you will be primed to accept the things that align with your preconceived notions. This means that anything you were not expecting the person to say will probably be missed since you were only listening to hear what you were expecting to hear.
If you are genuinely interested in what the person is going to say, you begin the conversation in an environment where the speaker feels truly understood and appreciated. Plus, you can actually hear and understand what they are saying rather than waiting to hear the points you have anticipated.
“I don’t think it’s possible to not make any assumptions—it’s just in everybody’s hardwiring,” says psychology researcher John Stewart, author of U&Me: Communicating in Moments That Matter and other seminal texts on interpersonal communication. Still, it is possible, he says, to check your assumptions out loud, with the person you’re listening to. Try asking “so you mean …” or “so you’re thinking that …” and let the person confirm or correct. – Sunny Sea Gold, Scientific American Mind (2015)
2. Ask more questions. It keeps you engaged!
Not only will the speaker know you’re interested in what they’re saying, they’ll feel more comfortable continuing the conversation. If somebody is talking to you about something important, they need to know their emotional energy is not being wasted. By asking questions, the speaker will feel more comfortable opening up and discussing topics in more depth. It shows that they can trust you because they feel heard and loved by you.
If the conversation isn’t serious, this is a perfect opportunity to practice asking questions to enhance your listening skills! For example, if somebody shows you their new thermos, ask where they got it. Ask how it’s working for them so far. Ask if they’re a coffee or tea person. You can really go on and on about anything to practice.
One of the simplest ways to be a better listener is to ask more questions than you give answers, says Gregersen. When you ask questions, you create a safe space for other people to give you an unvarnished truth.
“Listening with real intent means I’m going to be open to being very wrong, and I’m comfortable with that in this conversation,” says Gregersen. “In a world that’s getting more polarized, being able to listen is critical to reducing unnecessary conflict at any level, within a team, organization, or on a broader political country level,” he says.
3.Pay attention to your talk/listen ratio.
This is an important factor when you are talking to anybody about anything. You don’t want to be overbearing and discourage the person from talking, but you also want to show that you are engaged and enjoying the conversation. Some awesome ways to show you are listening in a conversation include repeating back what you heard to show understanding, and waiting for someone to totally be finished talking before you respond.
A New York Times article came up with a great acronym to check in with yourself throughout conversations: W.A.I.T., which stands for “Why Am I Talking?”
The article continues to explain:
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t contribute to the conversation. It’s just a good reminder to be self-aware of why you’re talking. Is it about the other person — to show them that you understand what they’re saying, because maybe you’ve had a similar experience? Or is there subtext of needing to brag a bit? It’s a particularly good rule to keep in mind for anybody in a management or leadership position, because anything you say can quickly overwhelm a discussion and make people shut down. But it’s true for everyone, as well.
“You can’t have an agenda,” Joel Peterson, the chairman of JetBlue Airways and founder of Peterson Partners, an investment firm, told me. “When you have your own agenda when you’re listening to someone, what you’re doing is you’re formulating your response rather than processing what the other person is saying. You have to really be at home with yourself. If you have these driving needs to show off or be heard or whatever, then that kind of overwhelms the process. If you’re really grounded and at home with yourself, then you can actually get in the other person’s world, and I think that builds trust.”
4. Know when to be honest and leave a conversation.
There is nothing wrong with not being able to fully participate in a conversation, but it is important to be honest about it. Sometimes we are rushed, don’t feel well, stressed, and so forth. You can tell your speaker “I know this is really important to you and I want to give you my full undivided attention. Can we wait a little bit? I need some time to rest.”
This is being honest with your intentions and can help perpetuate the norm of listening with the intent to listen, not just be polite.
So there you have it. How are you going to start working toward being a better listener? If you need any help, text us at 602-786-8840 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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