It’s time to talk about active listening

The two brothers

I have two friends(brothers) who are naturally gifted at the skill of active listening. They are natural listeners and I don’t think they even know it. However, I have discussed this among my friends and we all have had the same experience when interacting with them. After spearking with them I just feel better.

Let me give you an example.

I was in the market for a camera and went to purchase it from one of the brothers. When I arrived, he asked me a series of questions about my job, my mother, my favorite food to cook, and my newly found hobbies(driving my WRX and photography). I had been in the house for nearly 30 minutes talking with him and had only spoken about myself. He was just so interested in what I had to say. When I finished talking, he reflected for a moment with a pause, and asked a clarifying question which led me to explain further.

This conversation made me feel important, and valued. I felt inspired to reach for my goals, and pursue my passions even further. He just made my life seem so interesting. And that just feels amazing. My friends I agree. Speaking with either of them just leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and value that is unmatched in normal conversation.

Eventually I recognized that I had not had the chance to ask him anything about himself, or the camera I was there to purchase. I asked him about what he was up to and he explained his work situation and some of his recent accomplishments. His life was really going well, but he didn’t feel the need to share these accomplishments until I had asked.

Listening is not talking

Now, I should mention that this friend is genuinely interested in me and wants to hear my ideas. However, this is not the kind of conversation I want to have. It’s okay to talk about yourself but often I find that the difficult part of a conversation for me is listening WITHOUT doing any of the following:

  1. Thinking of a response for when they are done speaking(even a short anecdote or comment)
  2. Interupting to share a similar experience
  3. Allowing my mind to drift away from the conversation into a new set of thoughts unrelated to the current conversation (how rude!)
  4. Coming up with a list of objections for something they said and structuring a thesis for dismantling their logic and winning them over to my side (wow really?)

Why do I care about this?

The problem I have with talking over listening in a conversation is that it doesn’t allow for the exchange of ideas to take place. In a scenario where both people are doing the things in the numbered list above, neither person is listening, and neither person is learning anything. They are both talking to no one but themselves.

Listening is learning. You don’t have to agree with everything they say. Hell, you don’t have to agree with any of it. However, if you don’t listen… how do you know you don’t agree? Listening to what they have to say is the best way to learn from them. This is why I think that active listeners are the winners here. They listen to what others have to say, without interjecting with their own opinions, and decide for themselves what they agree with and don’t agree with.

Side note: Does active listening relate to people who read a lot of books? They consume information from a one sided speaker and all they do is listen. After reading a book, and digesting it fully, then the reader is able to decide if they agree and can respond with a strongly worded email(jk). But first, they listen.

How can I make others feel great when I speak to them?

Active listening is easy to describe, hard to do. There are books and essays about this topic so if you want to know what the experts think I would consult Google. I am here just to talk about my ideas and reflect. Here are some steps that I have come up with for myself to be a better listener when having a conversation. (Often I forget to do this and just blather on about my own self so it’s okay to mess up. Just keep trying. Sometimes I really do listen well and that gives me hope.)

  1. Ask a question of the other person.
  2. Listen until they are finished speaking, without interupting, or thinking about other things.
  3. Take a moment when they are finished to reflect on what they said before responding. (It’s okay to have a brief moment of silence for the ideas that you lost while listening. RIP.)
  4. Take a breath. Then ask a question, or make a statement, which summarizes or repeats something they said which you found interesting.
  5. Allow them to respond fully again and listen again.
  6. Repeat these steps until the person you are speaking with asks you for your own input or finishes speaking on their topic.

Sometimes it’s rather interesting to see how long you can go without saying anything about yourself, or your opinions. Just be a listener. Being listened to feels great. Try it on your friends and family to make them feel amazing!



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