True confession: I'm bad at it. Too often, I am thinking about how to share my views, rather than really listening to what others are saying. And it gets me into trouble at times!
Switching places for a moment, it feels amazing when somebody is listening to you. Especially somebody with "power," somebody who can create change. I always feel so valued when people take the time to just listen! Often, I don't want or need a solution, but I want them to consider my viewpoint. I want to share (that's the human connection piece). I want to feel heard.
Over the past several weeks, I've been in situations with students, parents, and staff members where I have to check my natural instinct to talk and focus on being a listener. It's hard! But I believe it holds the power to build relationships, and that makes it worth it!
I am far from being an expert, but here are a few tips and tricks that I have been using to be a better listener:
1. "Tell me more about..."
Often, a pause in the conversation indicates an opportunity for the other person to respond. At times, though, there may be something that was left unsaid, and probing deeper brings us to the real heart of what is going on. Using that pause to say, "Tell me more" rather than "Here's what I think" often opens up a whole new level of understanding.
2. Silence is golden.
Silence is uncomfortable. We tend to fill it with words. But sometimes those words distract from the heart of the issue. Don't be afraid to let silence sit in a conversation. Sometimes it leads to further reflection and revelation, but sometimes it just serves to acknowledge that you are hearing and thinking about what was just said.
3. Don't interrupt.
Oh, this is so hard! Especially in conversations that are more controversial, it is so tempting to want to stop someone when they are saying something that is hard to hear or not accurate (from your perspective). But what does that do? Immediately put them on the defensive. More often than not, it is worth it to let them finish their entire train of thought and look for the deeper heart of the issue, rather than quibbling over details in a back-and-forth ping-pong match. Even in conversations that are benign, it's easy to want to interrupt with my agreement, my story or experience, or my take on the matter. Hold your tongue & don't do it!