“We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.” – Diogenes Laertius
I often get to the end of a conversation only to realize I did all the talking. That’s one of the most disappointing feelings in the world to me. It certainly felt great in the moment to think only about myself, but I bored my friend half to death. I may have even damaged the relationship.
It’s one thing to have the great friend who occasionally gets you to open up and talk your heart out, get something big off your chest. It’s another thing to be always talking, never listening. I’m afraid I do too much of that in my personal relationships lately.
But one thing that helps is realizing that being a good listener isn’t just for my own sake–it does a few powerful things for the person I’m listening to. So here are 3 reasons why I’m working on listening more and talking less:
1. It makes the speaker feel personally cared for.
Author Bryant H. McGill explains: “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” People need to feel cared for. To feel that what they think really matters to someone. That someone loves them deeply enough to truly listen and care.
It’s easy to “care” about someone, knowing that taking care of them brings you some satisfaction, some fulfillment–like if you’re their leader, their parent, their counselor. But it’s harder when the “care” doesn’t make you feel like a big deal. The challenge is caring for someone on a completely equal level.
I need to know that someone doesn’t just care about me because they feel good when they do, or because I pay them to. I need to know that someone who doesn’t have to listen to me wants to listen to me, just because on the simplest and most unconditional level, they care about me.
2. It enables the speaker to listen in return.
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood,” says Ralph G. Nichols. “The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
Have you ever had someone try to convince you of an idea without really listening to you in return? It’s annoying and frustrating. Why would you trust someone to have well-rounded views if they do not show interest in listening carefully to your own views?
On the other hand, when someone listens intently to everything you have to say about a certain subject, it is much more natural to trust their judgement and trust their response. They have demonstrated a willingness to learn, which makes them a more likely source of wisdom. And they have shown that they really understand your own viewpoint, which makes their reply much more likely to actually engage your own ideas in a constructive way.
Listening carefully and thoroughly to someone enables them to trust your wisdom–to listen when you respond, because you understand and appreciate their own thoughts.
3. It encourages and empowers the speaker.
You have a lot more power over people than you may think. You have the ability to enhance someone’s self esteem and confidence and help them maximize their potential. And you can do it by truly and intently listening to them.
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing,” G.K. Chesterton noted. Have you ever been talking to someone who is acting like they’re listening, but you can tell they’re just waiting for you to finish so that they can have their say? It’s like a silent kind of interruption. That kind of listening doesn’t help boost someone’s confidence or self esteem at all. In fact, it makes the speaker feel pretty lame.
But when someone seems to be hanging on your every word, you feel absolutely incredible. You feel like what you’re saying is important, like you are important, like you make a difference.
There is nothing more discouraging to a speaker than realizing his audience is just waiting for him to finish. But a captive audience is incredibly empowering.
Careful, connected, enthusiastic listening empowers the speaker to greater self-confidence and therefore greater achievement.
This week, I’m going to work on listening. I’m going to consciously approach every conversation I can with the goal of speaking a lot less. And I’m going to ask my girlfriend to keep reminding me (probably going to regret that).
And I’m not just doing it because it’s good for me–I’m going to do it because it helps others.
I’m sure you’ve worked on becoming a better listener before. What did you see it do for your relationships? Please share some ideas! :)