Face the speaker. Nod your head. Make affirmative comments. Check, check, check. Listening.
How many times have you been told this checklist on how to listen?
The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to listen. There is no checklist of To Do’s to show the other person or people that you are hearing them, their message. Everyone listens and hears in different ways. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. The truth is, listening encompasses everything from the words being chosen to convey a message to the body position the speaker is using. It is the tone in their voice, the crease in their brow, and it is the words they did not say that holds their true message.
It is the words they did not say that holds their true message…Tweet
I spent most of my time growing up not being listened to and not being heard. Because of this, I chose more often than not, to not speak. I chose to bottle up my thoughts and feelings. This left me frustrated, angry, and weak.
Fast forward to my freshman year in college sitting in a Nonverbal Communication course. I remember thinking, ‘Why not? I’m here to try different things. Let’s see what happens!’… A lot. I walked out of that class with all the answers I could ever need to solve all of my life’s problems. Well, not really. But it felt like it!
After that course, I dove head first into learning how to communicate. It wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. But I now have the tools to communicate my wants and needs in a constructive, effective manner. First, this means listening. How does the saying go, listen first, speak later?
What does it mean to actually listen?
Let’s be real. Listening is hard! Communicating is hard! If you’re like most people, you’re spending 90% of your day communicating. If the odds are in your favor then your intended message is being understood maybe 50% of the time. What?! Those odds suck.
So let’s do better! Imagine this basic scenario, you’ve been at work for 8 hours and walk in the door to your home to see… a mess. Dishes dirty, leftover food on the counter, blankets sprawled out and unfolded on the couch. Your partner/roommate/sister had the day off. Be honest…you’re annoyed. Fast forward 10 minutes through the “Hey!” and “How was your day?” chat. An argument ensues. The discussion: neither of you were able to agree on a dinner cuisine and now your relationship is doomed because you have nothing in common.
Wait, hold up. How did we get here? Let’s break it down.
In this case, there are two nonverbal pieces that will be in play. Yours, as you come in the house, most likely stressed, tired, and surprised (remember that mess!). Those will be seen in your posture, facial expression, how you are carrying yourself. The other person, sprawled on the couch, relaxed, comfortable.
Now, this is the tricky one. Well, we don’t have anything in common because we never agree. Duh. Nope. That is the subject of the argument. It is NOT the context of the argument. The context is the messy house that you are arriving home to knowing full well someone was there to pick up after themselves all flippin’ day.
Well, why is that a big deal? We don’t know what they have been doing all day. It’s not their fault that YOU are upset about the house being a mess…
… And there it is.
Your expectation. The one you might not even know you have. That is what needs to be listened to. By both of you. This doesn’t always come through verbally. Or even non-verbally. First, you need to listen to yourself. Why are you mad? You’re upset because you hold the expectation that the house will be cleaned when someone has a non-work day. Be honest with yourself. Share your expectation.
SO much of listening is not only the physical act of listening. It is your relationship with the other person. It is the energy around you. It is your mood. And MOST importantly, it is the silent expectations that everyone is carrying with them and holding in each interaction and every relationship they have.