Talking is only one side of communication. And sometimes, when I look at the larger sociopolitical landscape of our world, it seems like there is a lot of talking. Platforms are sprouting up everywhere that allow people to make their viewpoints known across any medium. There seems to be much value placed on self-expression across these multiple platforms. This is why communication coaching on how you talk can be so valuable.
However, what seems to be lacking across these platforms is any emphasis on the importance of listening. Whether we’re talking about Twitter or a difficult face-to-face discussion, the only value seems to be on getting heard. I as a communication coach am often guilty of this. I want to empower people’s voices— that is at the heart of what I do. Sometimes, though, I’m putting too much emphasis on being heard, and not balancing that out with teaching my clients to listen, which actually, for many of us, is the harder thing to do: listening without interrupting, listening without immediately reacting, taking the time to consider another point of view— listening compassionately.
With that in mind, if you would like to train yourself to be a better listener, here are some simple steps to follow the next time you are in conversation. These steps are particularly important if you are having a difficult discussion or talking to someone whose opinion you disagree with.
Step 1: Breathe. I cannot talk enough about how crucial this step is. A lot of us hold our breath while we are listening to others. Sometimes this is why we can become so reactive— because our bodies are starting to panic from lack of oxygen. You don’t have to control your breathing, just make sure you aren’t holding it. You can even notice how what you are hearing is affecting your breathing rhythm. Breathe throughout the listening process and use your breathing to help you allow the other person to make their whole point (instead of interrupting halfway through). This also keeps you from focusing on preparing what you’re going to say next, which is what most of us do when we are listening, rather than actually listening. And definitely take another breath right before you respond, to make sure you don’t launch into a reaction you will regret later.
Step 2: Stay aware of your body. Often, especially when a viewpoint is difficult to hear, our energy tends to shoot upwards and we lose our grounding. This can lead to holding the breath and all of the pitfalls of breath-holding that are mentioned above. So keep checking in with where you are being supported by whatever surface you’re on while you’re listening. If you are sitting, where do you feel supported by the surface you’re sitting on? If you’re standing, where do you feel supported by the floor? It’s possible to be aware of these sensations as you listen to the other person talking, and helps you stay grounded as you do so.
Step 3: Listening is not about being an open receptacle for other people’s thoughts and feelings. You are allowed to have thoughts and emotions about what other people are saying. You are human too. Non-reactive communication and allowing others to speak does not mean you don’t get to feel. But using your breathing and awareness of your body to stay grounded helps you to acknowledge those feelings without immediately communicating them, including nonverbally, while someone is talking (which is another way of interrupting). Clock your feelings, allow them in, but keep breathing and grounding yourself so that you can honor that it’s someone else’s airtime. When it’s your turn, you’ll get to voice how you feel. Giving yourself this time also allows for a shift to happen in how you feel, if that’s in the cards.
Step 4: Be aware of how much space you are taking in the conversation. If you are doing all the talking, then you’ve left no room for listening. Start to monitor, in your daily life, how much you are doing the talking when in conversation. If you’re noticing a pattern of over 50% talking over 50% of the time, consider making an adjustment. Stretch those listening muscles. I have had students in the past who have misinterpreted an empowered voice with being able to talk for as long as they wanted to, and thinking that others would just have to listen until they were done because they had the right to speak. That is no longer empowered or empowering communication. Empowered communication, in my humble view, also seeks to empower others. If it becomes about talking as much as you want, all that is is an attempt to dominate. I believe that my students were simply overcorrecting. If you feel you may be overcorrecting as well, use this awareness of space to find balance.
Listening is not easy, which is why we have to train! Try to implement these simple steps, maybe even one at a time at first, and notice what happens in your personal and professional relationships. We truly believe that listening is the missing key to a lot of current world events, both big-scale and small-scale. We would love to hear how it’s going for you!
take good care,