3 Ways to REV Up Your Listening Game

{3 minute read}

I’m always drawn to people who are good listeners. Aren’t we all? Don’t we all want to be heard and seen? Heck yeah, we do! These people, the living and walking Yodas of the world, are focused and present. They don’t clog the spotlight and look like needy children vying for Mommy and Daddy’s attention. They are secure and knowledgeable. They are wise and look like they probably own a car where the backseat is spotless and the only thing filling the attic is insulation and all that’s in the basement is the water heater. They have mastered the cozy minimalist lifestyle rather than the cold and modern feel that minimalism often carries. Because, really? Who needs storage when you listen well? Psst. Uh, not Yoda.

We’ve heard it before and we’ve heard it again. Communication is listening. It is the root of all. Let’s rally to REV up our listening once and for all.

1. Receive like a warrior.

Often times we feel that when someone is speaking to us we need to know what to say. Have a response on the ready. Give the best damn advice this side of the Mississippi. We hold so tight to what our wise or witty response will be that we are not listening at all. We are in our heads waiting for the minute that they pause to take a breath so that we can jump in with the joke, the insight, the rebuttal. When a lot of times, (like 99.9% of the time) they just want us to listen. As in, just listen. They want us to receive what they are saying. They want us to see their point of view. They want to feel heard. If listening can be defined as anything it’s that: allowing someone to feel heard. We can remember when we have felt that because it doesn’t happen that often. So when it does – it feels fantastic. It’s like a little hit of love. (Yes, love. We’re going there.) What better way to show someone you care about them than to give them your undivided attention? There really isn’t one. Well, unless you brought them homemade cookies or a bottle of bourbon along with your undivided attention. Then, okay, sure, that’s way better.

2. Eavesdrop like a detective.

There is no better way to really learn how to listen than to watch strangers who aren’t. It’s a very low stakes activity because you are not invested personally with either party. You can watch the non-verbals objectively and learn from them. If you’re a writer, you can also gain some solid material and a crash course in Subtext 101. It can be pretty startling at first. You may find yourself taking all your strength not to grab the non-listener by the shoulders and shake some listening sense into them. You may ask yourself if the non-listener is aware of his self-absorption or if he is completely oblivious. And let’s be honest – if you’re mentally judging the person who isn’t listening – chances are that’s because you can relate to being that person. We all can. It’s not an issue until it is. Awareness is key and all that good stuff but if you’re not going to apply your newfound clarity then it really amounts to a whole pile of neurosis. It will clog your brain now because you’re not using what you’ve learned. You know better but you’re not showing it.  So it just sits and festers. Not what I call a good time. BUT once you get the hang of playing the eavesdropping game it becomes pretty freaking fun and slightly addictive. You do have to make sure that you don’t end up ignoring your own dinner date to eavesdrop on others. The other option is to marry someone who patiently waits, knowing that when you are squinting a little too intently at the menu that you are deeply invested in the adjacent table’s conversation.

The major benefit? It’s similar to finding what you want by first eliminating what you don’t want. By being aware of people who are competing for the Worst Listener Ever award, you are able to hone in on those who are the best damn listeners you have ever seen. You are able to pick them out instantly and then borrow from them. Pay attention to what makes them a good listener and then practice incorporating that into your own life. Marie Forleo states it perfectly: Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.

3. Validate like a champ.

“They’re all going to laugh at you!” is not just the fear of Carrie‘s mama. When we share who we are and what we believe, we’re either ever-ready to fly a double bird or terrified of being crapped on by a flock of them. Listening makes us vulnerable. It does. It creates this connection that for some people is a little too intimate. When we really truly listen we are non-verbally allowing the opportunity for bonding and understanding. That may be too big league for a lot of folks so we stay in the dugout kicking the dirt and belching the alphabet for laughs instead of stepping up to the plate. One of the best and most courageous ways to show that you are listening is validating the other person’s feelings. (If that just caused an eye-roll along with a double bird then I’d put all my chips on you having never been validated. Cue: head drop.) This does not mean that you have to agree with what they are saying. What it does mean is that you allow the person to not feel shameful or embarrassed by what they are saying, whether true confessions or light-hearted chitchat. Here’s a great article to help you on your way. 

We’re all in need of REVing up our listening game. It’s what will create clarity and sharpen insight in relationships and allow for more uninhibited healthy risk taking in creative exploration. Every moment of solid listening offers the chance for us all to feel more human and strengthen our sense of belonging. “I’ll try,” you say? In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

(Just picturing Yoda mic dropping brings a smile to my face.)

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