You feel what I’m sayin’?

Speak with intention, listen with attention.

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“I tried to tell you…I have said it every way I know how…You just aren’t listening to me. You aren’t hearing me.

Communication is a two way street. There have been many times in my life when I have not been heard — really heard — and it has caused me pain and loss. Some of those occurrences were due to my lack of skill or patience in terms of expressing myself. Sometimes, however, the person I was speaking with was not skilled in listening. I think one of the best compliments a person can earn is “so-and-so is a really good listener”.

Listening, hearing, and caring about what someone is saying is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Being a good listener means you focus on the person speaking with you, you consider what they are saying from their perspective, and you care about how they feel. Being a good listener is a key for success personally and professionally.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” — Stephen R. Covey

It’s a problem, this not listening habit.

Our ability to really listen — HEAR and FEEL — what someone is saying to us can affect personal relationships (friends, partners, our children and parents) and professional relationships (co-workers, bosses, clients, vendors). My career was stopped dead in it’s tracks because I wasn’t being heard. You want to improve your relationships and increase your successes? Listen well enough to feel what people are telling you. It’s a muscle you must exercise. It takes practice.

What does it mean to listen well, and how do you do it?

When someone is speaking, your job as a listener is to focus on what they are saying. I know that sounds obvious and simple, but often we contribute only part of our attention to the listening. The other part is dedicated to comparing our position or experience and preparing our response. Because we are dividing our attention, we are only taking in parts of what is being said. We are missing out on key pieces. It’s like using only some of the ingredients to make a cake. It’s not going to turn out right. To listen well, we need to focus 100% on the speaker. Instead of trying to connect the words to OUR experiences, try to feel what the speaker is experiencing. Listen through their eyes.

Listening is actually a natural and very comfortable action. Listening well, with your whole heart and head, takes some concentration and care.

When someone is speaking, take in their expression, their tone, and their body language. Don’t interrupt and don’t respond immediately.
When someone is speaking, try first to agree. Instead of formulating your counter-attach, let them be right, just for now. Listen with agreement. A bit like role playing, play the roll of the speaker in your head. Put their words into your own words.
Think before you respond. One of our greatest irreversible actions is speaking before we have thought about our words. When it’s your turn to speak, choose your words carefully. Be understanding. Access sympathy and empathy. Know that everyone has valid feelings and opinions, including you.

There are many opportunities to listen and communicate well.

In person, look at the speaker. You don’t have to stare without blinking directly into their eyes, but look them in the eye and focus on their face. Let your expressions show you are listening.

On the phone, remove distractions. Turn off the TV, look away from your computer or phone screen, walk to a quiet room so you are not distracted by the TV or other conversations.

Via email, read what has been sent to you carefully, more than once if necessary. Do not just scan, and do not read while listening to or doing something else. Imagine how you would feel if you were talking to someone and they started reading a book while you were speaking.

Consider the source.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when adults discount kids. It is so common for adults to tell kids to “get over it”. The message is “what you are telling me is insignificant and small”. In reality, whatever a 2 year old, 12 year old or 22 year old is talking with you about is important to them. Listen through their eyes. The same holds true for your employees. Your problems are not bigger than theirs. Their opinions and concerns and pains are valid and important. Listen through their eyes.

It all boils down to balance. Good communication is about hearing what others are saying, and telling your story or explaining your perspective. There is no point in talking if no one is listening.

As with so many things in life, you get what you give. Be a good listener and people will listen to you.

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I am Rachel Tawil Kenyon. I am a bookkeeper and small-business ally, and I live a balanced life. Click on my profile for articles about living a balanced existence at work and at home.