Really listening to someone can be very powerful, and it's a skill that can be developed.
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Listening fully is important: it helps the person speaking to feel understood, and it can help you have more authentic conversations and better connections with people.

Psychologist Tara Brach has an interesting way of describing how powerful really listening to someone can be. She says that our life spirit is like a fountain. If we haven’t been listened to properly for a long time, the fountain gets a bit blocked with unprocessed hurts and feelings, and our true self and aliveness can’t flow. When it’s like this, we are more likely to complain, be angry or just talk about nothing that’s real, she says. But when somebody really listens to us, it starts to become unblocked, and we start to flow and talk from a more authentic place.

However, listening fully isn’t easy, and often we only half listen. This might be because we are stressed, distracted, or feel like we don’t have time, or it might be that we’re thinking about what we want to say next. Tara says that one of the big reasons we don’t listen fully is that we often feel uncomfortable if we don’t have something to say, almost as if we feel like we are not here, or we don’t exist if we’re not speaking or planning a response. Because of this, we often rush to comment or give advice.

Listening is a skill, though, and there are ways to develop this skill and become a better listener. In her 2016 TED talk, Celeste Headlee gave some tips about how to do this and have better conversations. These include trying to be fully present in the moment when listening, which means that when other thoughts or good things to say come into your mind, you should let them go. Another tip she gives is asking open-ended questions (wh. questions) rather than closed questions (yes/no questions). And an interesting suggestion she offers is, ‘don’t equate your experience to theirs’. This means that if someone tells you about a problem at work, for example, don’t immediately respond with a comment about how much you dislike your job; it’s never the same, she says.

Psychologist Kenneth Miller suggests taking a breath before you respond, as a way to be a better listener. He believes that we often respond too quickly when listening, as we tend to be uncomfortable with moments of silence in conversations. However, he noticed that if he takes a breath before responding, the little bit of silence gives the person talking time to think about what they are saying, and then they often continue talking. He also found that he interrupts people less, which means that they seem more relaxed when talking. He recommends trying the technique to have better conversations but warns that some people might find the silence uncomfortable.

What about really difficult conversations? What can you do if you have a serious conflict or you’re just not understanding each other? Psychology professor Jordan Peterson suggests using one of Carl Rogers’ techniques for more challenging conversations: both people follow the rule, ‘Each person can speak only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately.’ Summarising what the other person has said ensures that he or she feels understood, and they will then be more open and more able to listen to your ideas, Peterson says.

Listening is important, and when you listen fully it can be incredibly powerful and helpful for the person talking. But, in addition to that, Peterson says that if you really listen to people, the person speaking is likely to be honest and generally tell you everything they are thinking, and very few of your conversations will be boring.

IELTS Reading Questions for Listening:
Matching Information & Summary Completion.

Sources and links from Listening

Tara Brach’s talk about listening. 
TED talk by Celeste Headlee about listening techniques and ways to have better conversations. 
Psychology Today article by Kenneth Miller about ‘taking a breath’ listening technique. 
Jordan Peterson’s website. He talks about the listening technique in his book 12 Rules for Life.
– Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay (edited).

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Nasir Ch.

    Thank you so much… good stuff to read.

    1. Nick

      You’re welcome, Nasir.
      Glad you liked it.

  2. Alpha B. Timbo

    This piece is really good. I am a very good listener and this has helped to broader my listening perspectives.

    Thanks and I remain humble.

    1. Nick

      Thanks for the nice comment.
      Glad you liked it.

  3. Nirbhay Singh

    Thank you for this article and related questions.

  4. Francisca

    Hi Nick,
    tank you for sharing your article. From now on I will have more material to practice my English by reading your articles.
    Today I had a lesson with you and we talked about this topic.

    1. Nick

      Hi Francisca.
      Thanks for your comment. Hope you enjoy the articles.

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