BY CHRISTINA GREENBERG
At a young age, I learned that almost anyone will like you if you do just this one thing: listen.
Listen to them talk about themselves. Listen to them talk about things that make their eyes light up. Ask them questions about those eye-light-up-things. Listen more. Repeat.
Seriously, it works.
It doesn’t matter if the speaker is a dear friend, a potential new client, your mail person, or a particularly attractive newcomer to a dinner party. If you listen to someone in a way that they feel heard, they will regard you very highly.
Let’s talk about listening
I know I don’t always listen in a way that the speaker feels heard; do you? Think back to the last time you listened to someone, and notice what was going on in your brain.
Were you thinking about what to say next? (Sometimes…)
Were you going in and out of attention, floating between their words and your to do list? (Sometimes…)
Or were you listening with empathy, consciously trying to feel what they must be feeling, and dialing down the volume of the chatter in your own brain? (Hmmm… usually not.)
The first two descriptions are examples of listening. Plain ole listening works wonders. Your listening skills shine through to some extent simply by granting space for others to talk, no matter where your brain wanders. Truth be told, though, if you want to enjoy listening as much as speakers love speaking, you want to wander into the realm of empathetic listening. You want to listen so others feel heard.
Listening and empathetic listening are two vastly different experiences. Simply listening requires not speaking while the speaker speaks. Empathetic listening requires engaging in the speaker’s experience, immersing yourself in their journey, and mirroring your genuine interest in that journey back to them.
Take stock. How often (if ever) do you listen empathetically? If, like me, you have some work to do in listening more empathetically (or listening empathetically more often), let me assure you with three heaps of hope.
First, empathetic listening is a completely learnable skill.
Secondly, with every percent more that you listen empathetically, you prove yourself as a listening rock star.
And, lastly, the only fancy gadget, best-selling book, and self-help program you need is…. yourself. All you need to become an empathetic listener and anybody’s best friend is YOU.
Let’s explore a few tricks to help you tap into your most empathetic and authentic listening self:
1. Feel into a topic that makes the speaker tick
There are SO many more topics in this wide world of ours than careers and the weather. Ask about the speaker’s pets, their university major, what they do in their free time to help them feel more charged. Sense into how they are feeling by sensing into what you are feeling while you listen. If you are feeling excited about something they are talking about, they probably are, too! Your goal in this phase of listening is to find a topic that lights up the speaker’s eyes AND yours.
2. Ask increasingly deep questions
Go down the rabbit hole with your speaker. Tune into what you are feeling to guide these questions. It can be very tempting to think so much about what you will ask next that you completely miss what they are saying. Allow your mind to go blank while you feel into your body while they talk. See what it’s like—I think you’ll be amazed at the questions you come up with! When in doubt, you can always start with, “hmmm, tell me more about that?”
3. Mirror their engagement
The best listeners in the world only thinly veil that they are simply repeating back to you what you said, with minimal interpretation. And, because you don’t have to come up with new material, this tactic also allows for your mind to be relatively inactive while you listen. Great leading statements include, “it sounds like…,” “you seem….,” and “so let me get this right, you….?”
If you can find the topic that makes the speaker tick, ask questions that lead them deeper down their own rabbit hole, then genuinely listen with engagement, I guarantee that you will leave the conversation feeling like a wise, respected sage. There is no way to mess this up, and, as with all things worth learning, you will get better at it with time.
Oh—and one last note. Please, please remember that you are worthy of being heard, too. In your journey of being an exquisite listener, I hope you find those gems of people who are exquisite listeners, too.
And if, in reading this article, you realize that few of your loved ones listen empathetically, know that you are not alone. Maybe we could all slyly post this article where our favorite empathetic-listeners-to-be will see it?