It’s a skill to fully listen to one or more people in a conversation. If you want to test how people are listening, ask them to repeat back to you the message or direction you were trying to convey. You will be surprised at how often the other person wasn’t fully listening or took something different from your words than you meant. That’s right, someone can be listening, but take something different from what you said than you meant.
I struggle with active listening because my mind goes into overdrive on what I want to say or how I want to respond. In my role as an attorney I have to be able to think on my feet, immediately respond to questions from judges or clients, and all the while respond in a meaningful way that answers a question or drives home a position. This doesn’t help me be a better listener, but only a better advocate for my client. Turning this off in other conversations is difficult.
The struggle to fully listen is evident in conversations with clients, friends, and family. I may be thinking about a response to a question or position, or a story I want to share, but if I focus on what I want to say, I am not focusing on what you are saying. This is human nature, but I constantly am working to be a better listener.
At a base level I try to remember what I tell my children, which is that if your mouth is open, your ears are closed. I am trying to teach them you have to listen to know what to say.
You should ask others about what you have said to see whether they were fully listening to you and whether they understood what you were trying to convey. You will be surprised by the results. Likewise, in important conversations, repeat back what you believe you heard to see when you are correct, or not.
I notice when I focus on what the other person says my responses are more thoughtful and directed at what I understand the speaker is interested in discussing. I challenge you to listen better in your conversations this week and see how you do.