Learning to listen

Are you a good listener? I am sure most people would answer yes to this question but then upon reflection, if they were honest, might consider otherwise. Listening is a skill and one which, like all other skills, can be learned.

I haven’t always been a good listener. In fact years ago, when I was younger, I was one of those people who listened to speak or perhaps didn’t even listen before I spoke. Just jumping in whenever a thought popped into my head. It stings a little to say that, but if I am being true to myself, it is most definitely the case. It wasn’t that I didn’t care what other people had to say, it was just an instinctual thing that I had something to say, add or that must be heard and so interrupted, constantly. I do have a character trait of being in my own bubble and not always having that filter of thinking before I speak, but my listening skills have most definitely improved over time.

Not too many years ago, however, I had a session with this guy, who I guess for want of a better word was a coach. His approach was slightly random in that you walked outside for your sessions. Interesting concept and one which definitely created an environment that was conducive to growth.

He observed me in a meeting before our first session and then when we met up for our ‘walk’, he told me exactly what he thought of me in terms of how I show up. I was so incredibly offended. Partially because there was some truth in what he was saying, but also because really I felt he wasn’t actually seeing all facets of me, just one of them. He hadn’t taken the time to listen to me. After I got over the initial feeling of being wounded by his words, I faced up to them and thought that I seriously needed to work on my listening skills.

Listening skills are something I have worked on for years and although, as I said, I have got much better at it, I still have a long way to go. I think if we can be forever a humble student there is always, always more to learn.

Recently, I’ve noticed with much profoundness, the number of people I’ve come into contact with who do not listen, at all, nor have any seeming desire to hear anything other than their own voice and what they have to say. Perhaps I could look at this from the angle of, I am simply listening more and so hearing more. Although to be honest most of these people, when I do try to speak, really don’t listen at all, or when I have said something, they immediately turn the conversation once again to, I, and begin to go on again about themselves…

Deep sigh…I am finding this terribly frustrating, which usually means there is much to be learned. Being mindful in these circumstances helps because it brings your attention not only to the person who is speaking but to what comes up within you, giving you the opportunity to choose how you respond.

Perhaps we merely need to listen and smile, wish the person well and move on…everyone has a perspective, some have the ability to only see one; their own, whereas others have the ability to see many and want to hear with interest what others say….

Being present enables you to decide where you are in this scenario…when we are quiet we can hear…we cannot listen if we do not cease our own chatter first and create the space to listen to others.

Try it…

[This image is of my friend, Tori, who, when I thought about a photograph to show good listening, popped straight into my mind. Tori is a great listener!]

The New Year Sale

I’ve been pondering recently on an exercise suggested as an alternative to setting New Year resolutions.

I am not a fan of New Year resolutions. I don’t make them. I can resolve to changing something at any time during the year. New Year resolutions for most people don’t stick. Most often people make them because they feel they have to, rather than wanting to, which makes it meaningful and more likely to last. If this is the case, chances are they won’t last much beyond February. Another reason why you find the gym you go to so jam packed during January only to quieten down again and return to normal in February.

Instead, I like to reflect on the year that has passed and think about what I’d like to see happening for the coming year. I avoid setting goals at the beginning of January and just ease myself back in and then start thinking about it towards the end of the month.

So an alternative New Year exercise is to review your entire calendar for the year just gone by. Take a notepad and draw a line down the middle of the page, heading ‘negative’ on one side and ‘positive’ on the other. Review the calendar week by week, writing down the name of each person you’ve interacted with in one of the columns based on the impact they’ve had upon you?

Easy right? Not so, there is more to this than one would first think…

By the way, if you have an iphone it will have a default setting that erases your calendar as you go along. No idea why it thinks this would be helpful. You can restore all your diary by going into calendar settings and choosing to ‘sync’ all events. It adds everything back in almost instantly. I can’t speak for other devices but for ical this works. If you don’t note or write who you meet in your calendar, you could simply make a list of all the people you have interacted with through the year. To be honest I found I did a bit of both because I don’t always schedule personal meet ups in my calendar, so I wrote down a list of all the people in my life and who I have met with in the last year.

Once you have your list of people, write them on the naughty or nice list.

The idea is that at the end of the exercise you can choose to have less or no interaction with those on the negative or naughty list.

For me it wasn’t quite that black and white. What I found was, that there were many people who had both a positive and a negative impact on me. Not surprisingly some of these were family members, but also people I work with too.

There were so many benefits to doing this. It gave me the opportunity to see who I spend most of my time with – am sure you have heard of the saying that we are the sum of the 5 people we surround ourselves with. It gives you the opportunity to appraise who those people are.

I realised that at some points we all (some more than others) impact both negatively and positively on others. Even if we aren’t intending to it is the perception of others that decides the impact we have upon them. So in that vein I came to the conclusion that really it is my response that makes it positive or negative. After all that’s all I am in control of. I can’t change the way another person behaves. I can only change the way in which I respond, and, as the purpose of the exercise, decide whether or not to keep people in my life.

Gives a whole new meaning to a New Year sale.