Keys to Listening Well

I’m learning again—in the last third of my life—the importance of listening. Now, I know that the idea of listening being important to a relationship is not new. Actually, it’s a message we often hear in the context of relationships. And we keep hearing about it because it truly is that important! If you want your relationships to flourish, make sure that you listen to your loved ones. In this article, I’m going to ask a few questions to help get at some practical ways we can do that. 

How often do you spend time preparing your response while the other person is talking? This question probably leaves almost all of us feeling called out, doesn’t it? Because, it’s completely natural for us to listen to somebody else and to spend a good chunk of the time they’re talking coming up with our response to them. But when we do that, we’re treating our exchange less like a meaningful conversation and more like a debate. Of course, there is give and take in conversation. But when we’re focusing on what we’ll say when we get our next opportunity, we’re missing out on the listening part. 

How often do you prioritize understanding what the other person is saying compared to prioritizing them understanding what you’re saying? In many ways, spending our time and energy making sure we are understood rather than that we are understanding other people is the foundation for most misunderstandings. In moments of conflict or moments with a lack of clarity, our focus immediately goes to making sure that the other person understands us. You can almost feel the switch flip in your head sometimes, can’t you? They say something that mischaracterizes what you meant, and now the focus of the conversation moves from what it originally was to you doing all you can to make sure they understand what you meant. If we put half of that effort into understanding the people we are talking with, our relationships will grow and flourish.

How often are you distracted by other things while you’re also trying to listen? Obviously, we live in a world with lots of other things going on, pretty much at all times. Technology makes it possible for us to listen to our favorite music or podcast or audiobook anywhere and everywhere. We can watch our favorite team play live, or we can catch the game on our own schedule after the game is over. We can find out what our friends or acquaintances are doing right now. We can watch the latest TikTok trend. And we can catch up on our work emails at any time. All of these things are competing against our loved ones for our attention at any given moment. Instead of letting our attention be divided when it’s time to listen, let’s make the choice to put everything else on pause and give our full attention to the people who we care about the most. 

It’s my hope that these questions can help each of us see a practical path forward to improving our listening skills. It won’t be a quick or easy adjustment, but it will definitely be worth the work. When we listen well, our relationships will grow in ways that we never would have imagined and we’ll be winning more often at home.