Sometimes people forget to listen to each people with any sincere interest. Good listening often replaces an egocentric need to impress someone with how much more special your story or accomplishments are than theirs. When someone is sharing their story with you, notice how their joy is minimized in telling it when you jump in with comments about yourself. This habit can quickly create distance between you and others.
The next time you're in a conversation with someone, try talking only about the other person for a change. Don't talk about your own experiences and what you're reminded of, etc., but consciously notice your tendency to say something about yourself or your tendency to rebut what you just heard the other party say. Surrender this tendency to interject your comments, and just share in the other person's joy in telling their story and see how much more fun and smiles they experience when they don't sense competition from you. A person cannot feel heard if you're sharing your great idea about something. Only after the person has felt heard is it time to share your ideas and advice and then you'll find they will listen to you much better too! You in turn will acquire a peaceful inner confidence that is derived from letting others have the spotlight and attention for a change. It's a magical feeling!
As an exercise in listening, take turns with a partner so that one talks and the other listens for a full 10 minutes. As the listener, occasionally ask encouraging questions to reassure your partner of your interest or make positive comments like, "Yes, I think so too" or "Can you tell me more" or "I see what you mean" or "I want to hear the whole story," etc. to your speaking partner. Make sure your facial and body language is also in accord with this affirmative tone. For instance, don't frown or grimace in disagreement while saying, "Yes, I agree" verbally.
Mindfully put your body in the same postural position as the speaker's, modeling their head, body, arm and leg gestures identically. Do all of this with conscious definitude and sincerity. In fact, modeling a speaker's voice tonality, eye contact, loudness, posture, word content and gesturing is a good way to establish comfort and acceptance in the other person without their noticing that you are modeling their behavior. Be endorsing and acknowledging, not placating and excessively excited. Don't compete for the energy throughout the conversation.
As a good listener, don't get hung up on a speaker's delivery - squeaky voice, occasional stutter, etc. for it tends to distract you from receiving the underlying message. You also must tune out distractions in the immediate environment that could divert your attention from focusing on the speaker. Discipline yourself to maintain eye contact, lean forward in your chair and accept the speaker's message without judging it as right or wrong. Doing this allows you to look for other clues, like body language and voice tonality. Are these clues consistent with what is being told to you? Is the message genuine or staged?
As the speaker, talk for 10 minutes to your partner about something you feel strongly about -- abortion, quality education, pollution, war, peace, a lover, etc. People often need to discharge as an emotional release, so good listening allows this release to unfold. If you do not allow a person to talk to completion, they cannot discharge their discomfort or pain inside and it stays unfavorably bottled up.
Reciprocation is also important, so after you both have had a chance to be the listener and speaker, compare the feelings you have concerning each other. Did you think your partner was listening with sincerity? Shutting your mouth also allows the listener to consciously tune into more levels than just words! You can even change your listening perspective. If you were listening for content, listen instead for any subtle emotions you pick up from the listener. What does the body language tell you about the person, and ask yourself what brought that person to their present state of mind!? The listener may even begin to feel accepted by you as you pick up on parts of them that they can't articulate or even express openly. Being a good listener takes practice, but it's worth the effort and can truly change your life.
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