It is incredible what you see when you look. It is incredible what you hear when you listen. It is incredible what you feel when you touch.
Do you notice something about the verbs in these sentences?
One is passive, and one is active. One happens on its own the other requires intention.
You can see something without looking at it. You can hear something without listening to it, and you can feel something without touching it.
It comes down to intention.
As storytellers, we have to be intentional. Intentionality is apart of the magic of storytelling as it is living. We take the insignificant and examine it for greatness. Some of the greatest moments in life occur because you have paid attention. You've listened in someway.
Listening is the only way to examine effectively.
The art of active listening must be a regular practice in our humanity. Two keywords here. Active, which means there is required action, and practice, which means it is a skill that needs honing. Active listening is not something that happens on its own without thought and intentionality.
We are never really taught to listen; we are told that we must listen. How can you do something that you don't know how to do?
You create a method, whether it be right or wrong. It is a method that fits the need of the time. It eventually becomes a regular practice. As time goes by, your listening strategy has worked. You think it's right until you arrive at a situation where it no longer works, but you do not realize it is not working. Those situations manifest as arguments, confusion, relationship problems, general dissatisfaction.
To help solve these problems, we must become active listeners for the sake of our relationships, ourselves, and our stories.
Here are 5 ways to improve your active listening skills.
Unplug from the electronics and move from the distractions. Put the phone down. Close the computer. Turn off the TV. We cannot listen when we cannot hear. One of the significant dilemmas for citizens of the 21st century is the bombardment of distraction. We have so many things fighting for our attention. We have control on where to put our intention, but we fail to choose wisely. Before you can listen, you have to unplug and get away from distractions.
Connect to the person you're talking to. Let the person know you are giving your undivided attention. Just note, that person, maybe you. We have to listen to ourselves as much as we have to listen to others. The person you are listening to needs to know you are present and you're listening. They need to know they have your attention. You know when someone is there in body but not mind. You can see it on their face. Physically, they're a few feet from you, but mentally and psychologically, they're thousands of miles away. Find ways to connect to let the other person know you are present.
Give good feedback. Feedback lets the person speaking know that you are with them. You are occupying the same space, and they're being heard. Feedback does not mean you chime in every time the other person takes a breath because it is more than words. We spend more time thinking about our response in conversation than listening to what's being said. Feedback is reciprocal communication to let the other person know they are being heard. It is beyond verbal, and nonverbal feedback is as valuable as words. Feedback could be as simple as a nod, a smile, eye contact, anything as long as you are making a connection, and the other person is taken seriously.
Understanding is the purpose of communication. Your job as an active listener is to make sure you understand what you are hearing. If you don't understand, state that. Repeat back what you've heard. Ask them to repeat or rephrase what you didn't understand. This concept is true when we communicate with ourselves. We have to make sure we understand who we are as people. That means engaging in conversation with ourselves. We may have to ask ourselves to repeat or rephrase what we don't understand.
5. Judge Not
Listeners are not judges. The world is full of enough people to provide judgment on us. When we are in the role of the listener, we need to hear. We need to take in what's being given to us. We need to recognize it and understand it, but we do not need to judge it. People feel comfortable talking with us for a variety of reasons. Not feeling judgment could be the main reason for comfort. As a listener, know your role.
This is true as we communicate with ourselves, especially when we engage in creative work. We are our harshest critic because we fail to listen without judgment. We would not say to others what we say to ourselves. There are plenty of judges; we need to welcome the conversation. When you listen to yourself, don't judge. Accept. When you listen to others, don't judge. Accept them.
Over the next few days, weeks, and months, challenge yourself to be a responsible, active listener, not only to others but yourself.
Consciously, unplug, connect, give feedback, understand, and judge not.
You will be surprised by what you can hear when you listen, and what you can learn when you are mindful.
Charlie McCoin is a teacher, a traveler, and a storyteller who works to help people discover and tell their stories.