The artful skill of listening and is not as easy to do as you might assume! When we are listening very often multiple conversations are happening simultaneously. The one that you are having with the person who is outside of you, the one that you’re supposed to be listening to and the conversation that you may be having at the same time inside of your own head. 

Sometimes that happens perhaps because we are disengaged with the content of what the person is saying and so we may become preoccupied in our own mind with our thoughts. Sometimes, however, there may be something that they say that triggers us to respond but rather than responding out loud we begin to have an internal response to what they’ve said. The problem with having that is our internal response to is that you’re then having a whole separate other conversation with yourself. During which time you will have missed the next thing that they said and that might have been the most important thing for you to know about that day. 

One of the most useful and important things to do if you’re in a situation where you need to be demonstrating the art of good listening is to make sure that you are present in that moment and by present, I mean that you’re having an hour outside world experience as much as possible. This can come from grounding yourself or in some circles this may be thought of as almost like a meditation type of technique where you’re going to pay attention to all of your external stimuli, not just what it is, that you’re hearing but really tuning in to what you can see around you at that moment, what you can feel and how your body is feeling at that moment. Often, we’re so busy thinking that we kind of tune out of being ourselves at the moment and the more that we can be back in tune with where we are, who we are with and what we’re doing; the better our listening abilities are going to be.

The second thing that might be important to consider if there is something that’s really niggling at you and something that’s taking up your own brain space is to just come out and say so get that out of the way as that is potentially getting in the way of you being a good listener. Even if it’s not with them makes sure that you get that off of your chest and out of the way first.

I remember going to an NLP coaching session once and finding it a little bit odd that the lady who was coaching me in NLP started off the session by saying “before we get focused on our topic for today. Is there anything that’s maybe happened to you today, that you just need to get off of your chest?” and I said ‘no’ because I was being polite and then she responded by saying well here’s something that’s happened to me today and she went into a couple of minutes rant about how her child was playing up and not taking their afternoon nap at the time they normally would do, it had thrown off her routine and at the time I remember thinking “this is a very odd conversation! I haven’t called this woman for NLP coaching so that I can listen to her troubles” but at the same time I can appreciate that getting it out of the way so that it wasn’t nagging at her in the back of her brain was a really good tactic for then being able to focus on all of the stuff that I might have had to say in the rest of the session. If you’ve got stuff that needs attending to in order to help you become a better listener, attend to it.

Another useful tactic in avoiding that internal distraction is to not make conclusions about what somebody is saying too quickly. Make sure that you do not make assumptions and then start going down a rabbit hole of what you think. You have to accept that sometimes people are going to tell you a story about their experience or the memory that they’re sharing and it may be appearing to go in one direction but then it completely goes off in some other direction. Just like when you watch a good movie, you know, a good movie is typically not all that predictable. A good movie is usually one that has a few surprises in there so engage with someone in the way that you would engage with a good movie except that there’s maybe going to be some plot twists in what they’re saying.

By Gemma Bailey