The Gift of Active Listening
Have you noticed how many people you’ve been talking to lately that don’t seem to be actively engaged in listening to what you have to say?
You see it everywhere. People are distracted in every social setting, even checking their phones for the latest social media post or taking a call when they’re sharing a meal.
What does it feel like when you’re on the receiving end of that situation?
When it happens to me, I feel disrespected and unimportant and that doesn’t feel so great!
How Active Listening Can Help Client Stress
I also see it all too often between family members or spouses when I work with clients during a downsizing move. That’s a time when active listening is critical to reducing stress, feeling appreciated, or finding solutions to a challenge.
The dictionary describes active listening as “to hear something with thoughtful attention and to give consideration”.
That’s when you give others enough respect to say “I’ll listen because you’re important to me”, regardless of whether you have any true personal interest in the subject they want to discuss.
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of husband and wife jokes around that play on the concept of “selective hearing”, where a spouse only hears what they want to and tunes out the rest.
Feeling Unheard Has Emotional Consequences
But, not listening to someone who is trying to communicate with you, whether it’s at a workplace or at home, can have real emotional consequences.
First, it devalues that person’s beliefs or opinions, a core aspect of their identity.
Over time, a person who is repeatedly ignored when communicating can lead to the development of serious emotional issues like low self-esteem, depression, and feelings of isolation.
When a person is under stress, like the kind experienced during a significant transition like moving or downsizing, those consequences can feel even worse.
Feeling valued is a core human need. The ability to communicate is one of our most important tools to reach out to others and fill that need. But, it takes two to create that connection, and each party has a role to play as an active listener.
Why Is Active Listening So Difficult?
In an online article called “Active Listening: Why Is It So Difficult?” by Gene Wheeler, he explains there’s more to why we aren’t always able to stay engaged.
He says “We think four times faster than a person can speak, which means we need only about 25% of our mental capacity to hear the content of the message. With 75% left, our mind wanders. But, the biggest difficulty in listening is noise”.
What’s the “noise”?
More and more things in our daily environment are working against our ability to engage in active listening than ever before.
How Distractions Play a Role
Take social media, cell phones, “app’s” and instant news feeds for example. We’re inundated daily by the noise that electronics have brought to our world.
We also get waylaid by the other stuff going on in our minds, like work problems or why our Chihuahua keeps peeing on the coach.
When you think about it, it’s literally a miracle we’re able to focus on our own thoughts long enough to complete what’s essential for our health and well-being in a typical day, let alone connect to those around us.
How You Can Help
But, if you work with senior clients, family members, or even someone in your own personal life, who is struggling with feeling “heard”, it’s important to take the time to slow your communication process down and address it.
As a Downsizing Specialist, we often act as neutral mediators for our clients. We can gently guide conversations with clients or family members to help support those who are feeling frustrated and unheard.
It can make a world of difference in the way they experience a life challenge, as well as those they are communicating with.
Many times, those challenged with actively listening aren’t even aware that there’s an issue. They simply don’t see the signs.
Active Listening Can Improve Your Team Experience
But, active listening isn’t just a tool to improve your client’s experience, it’s a golden opportunity within your own team.
Research has shown that active listening as a part of a supportive company culture can greatly improve productivity and morale in a work environment.
People want to feel like they are part of a team. Encouraging active listening allows them to feel more comfortable when exchanging creative ideas with other co-workers or their managers.
Managers can benefit as well by improving systems and processes after listening to issues, solutions, and/or suggestions from their staff.
To be a truly active listener, experts suggest the following:
1. Do your best to control your thoughts and emotions enough to focus entirely on the other person.
The best way to do this is to limit your distractions. (I know, I know, just go with it). Mute or turn off electronics or anything else that might interrupt or distract you during the conversation.
2. Listen without judging.
We humans tend to instantly pop up with responses before the person has even finished their comment. Stay neutral and allow them to complete their thought before you respond.
3. Be fully present.
Keep your focus on the here and now. Often, we tend to pull things from the past, and even fears about the future, into our discussions when they aren’t relevant.
4. Be alert for what’s NOT being said.
Not all communication is verbal. Active listening means listening to ALL the messages coming through like body language, tone, and eye contact. If something seems off, ask for clarification.
5. Calm your emotions.
If a conversation is emotional, check your emotions at the door when communicating. It’s hard to truly listen or convey something when you, or the person you are interacting with, are angry, frustrated, or shut down.
Staying calm (and patient) creates emotional open space and can help you avoid unwanted reactions for even the most difficult, or awkward, of conversations.
Now that you know that it’s a skill you can hone and improve on, how will you use it to improve the relationships at home and in your business today, tomorrow, and beyond?
Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!
P.S. Want to learn more about other psychological factors behind downsizing? Check out my online video guide called The Psychology Behind Downsizing: How to Move Your Parent From Resistance to Relief!