Dale Carnegie once said that "if you want to be popular or well regarded as a person then ask people about themselves, it is most people's favorite topic." Many people know this, but do they know the second part of the equation? Listening to the person after you ask a question? Not always.
It seems humorous to me that we have twice as many instruments to listen with (your ears) than we to speak (your mouth) but I wonder, sometimes, if anyone knows that they have to be quiet to hear another person as they speak? For many people, listening to someone seems to be what you HAVE to do in order to get to the part you really want to do, to SPEAK about what you wanted to talk about.
Let's say that just for fun you actually wanted to improve your active listening skills? There are a couple or three things that you might consider adding to your listening skills besides just closing your mouth.
The 3 skills are Listening in Uptime, Balancing your Energy and the Proper Distance.
1. Practice listening in uptime.
Being in "Uptime" means being in the "present" or in the "here and now" for the speaker. This means looking through your eyes, listening through your ears and being out of your head so that you can ACTUALLY HEAR what's being said by the speaker.
Many people, as they listen to someone speaking, go into "Downtime", meaning they go into their heads and/or into their feelings about what is being said and can miss all of what is being said by the speaker. You can miss out on lots of information while you're up there in your head, so STOP and listen to the speaker.
Yes, there are a few lucky souls that, for some reason, have uptime as their default listening strategy, but I'm definitely not one of them. I have to remind myself frequently to "stay out there" so I can hear what's being said instead of formulating my own responses to the topic at hand. It's a skill worth having and your speaker will appreciate it.
2. Balance your energy.
Everything we are and do is energy-based. That's right Yoda, it's the force and it's with you, if you use it. The proper balance of compassion, fierceness and playfulness is needed for listening as well a speaking. Without a proper balance of energy the conversation can lag or collapse into nothingness or even an argument; remember its all energy.
If the speaker is very fierce you might add a little playfulness or compassion. If the speaker is very playful, compassion and fierceness maybe be in order and the same is true for a very compassionate speaker may need a little fierceness or playful energy to balance the conversation.
3. Cultivate Proper Distance
There is an interesting term used in the martial art "Aikido" called "Ma ai" (pronounced Ma eye) which literally means "proper distance". In martial arts there is a space where you are close enough to engage your opponent while still remaining beyond his or her reach or grasp; it's a safe space. The interesting thing is that in fight, the "proper distance" changes, continuously.
The same is true for a conversation, the "proper distance" for listening changes topic by topic, context, over time and with repetition. The key point is to maintain a space that is close enough to engage your speaker without either energetically collapsing into the conversation or by moving so far away that you are merely an observer to the conversation instead of an active participant.
Adding any 1 of these 3 skills will definitely improve the quality of your conversations and it will take time and effort before you understand all 3 of these skills completely. The effort is definitely worth it. Without these skills, I'm certain that my coaching or hypnosis clients would have either slower, perhaps fewer breakthroughs or I might have burned out from listening to people with lots and lots of problems.
Having the ability to engage fully without taking on a person's problem and still actively attending to their problem or pain is something we could all benefit from. No one wants to sit and listen to someone consistently complain or gripe about a problem. These 3 listening skills can provide them the necessary skills and energy to keep their problems from bleeding over into your life.
Take some time to digest and absorb these 3 keys to active listening and if you want to know more, just ask me a question or leave a comment on the blog. More later.
Michael Harris, PhD