Have this ever happened to you: you’re talking to someone, perhaps sharing a matter of deep concern, when you notice they have a far-off look in their eye. When you finish talking the person responds with an odd-sounding anecdote that doesn’t make sense until you realize a slight connection with something you said very early in your remarks.
Or worse yet, have you ever been listening to someone when they say something that causes your mind to immediately think of an event in your life. Your brain starts racing, formulating your response, all the while nearly ignoring the rest of the other person’s remarks.
Unfortunately, that happens in too many conversations. Sometimes the person being ignored immediately realizes it. While they’re often too nice to speak out, they’re hurt. The depth of the pain often corresponds to the strength of the bond they felt with the other person.
Even if the person doesn’t immediately realize the slight, they leave the conversation with less than they deserve.
Overcoming the propensity to think about yourself during conversation takes practice, but it is a skill well worth the effort.
The key is to focus your attention on the other person. Realize that at that moment, what they’re saying is most important.
One way to learn how to listen more attentively is to get in the habit of asking questions instead of offering advice or suggestions. You can’t ask someone a question about what they just said unless you’ve listened to them.
Part of the training I’ve received as a certified coach with Valwood Christian Leadership Coaching is the importance of asking powerful questions. Powerful questions make the other person think. They are almost never yes or no questions.
These questions are usually best if their part of the context of the conversation, but some general examples are:
— What do you see as your purpose in life?
— What are your retirement plans?
— What do you see as your strongest talents?
— Where do you see yourself in five years?
— What options have you considered?
— What are the potential obstacles?
Perhaps the easiest way to learn how to listen to other people is to care about them. You must listen without an agenda. Set aside what you want and help them get what they want. Help them reach their dreams and you’ll almost certainly be closer to yours.
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