What if we really listened to people, instead of doing what passes for listening most of the time? The person talking to you would have an extraordinary experience. With your observational powers on full throttle, you'd perceive more than you normally do, and your speaker would feel that something uncommon was taking place. Not only would you understand the speaker's words, but you'd grasp her small nuances of meaning. You'd perceive how she feels about you. You'd understand more of her personality. And you'd probably know something of what she's leaving unsaid as well.
The difference between you (fully listening) and other listeners (with minds wandering) would be so noticeable as to be startling.
Why is this important? Because your overall effectiveness in life depends on your ability to deal with people well. This discipline of listening will send your ability with people into another league entirely!
A man once said of Sigmund Freud, "He struck me so forcibly that I shall never forget him. His eyes were mild and genial. His voice was low and kind. His gestures were few. But the attention he gave me, his appreciation of what I said, even when I said it badly, was extraordinary. You've no idea what it meant to be listened to like that."
Fully concentrating your attention on the speaker is only the beginning of better listening. It's a necessary first step, like the undercoat of a painting, but it's only the start.
To be a first-class listener, you'd encourage the speaker, you'd let her know with your nods and expressions and body language that you appreciate what she's saying, that you enjoy the conversation, and most of all, that you respect her.
When you listen this way, you won't be silent. You won't be passive. On the contrary, you'll be exerting yourself because you need to be doing several things simultaneously: You're taking in the information; you're picking up on the emotional significance being communicated; you're letting the speaker know that you understand and appreciate what she's saying-and you're doing all this without interrupting her flow of speech.
Also, when you're listening well, you're asking the person questions that she'll enjoy answering or questions that she'll find valuable to answer; you're helping her clarify what she's saying so she's left with more understanding about herself after she's done talking with you; and you're communicating silently to the speaker that you respect what she's saying, even when you disagree.
When you do disagree, learn to avoid making a direct assertion that disagrees or invalidates her ideas. Instead, learn to say, "I feel that such and such is the case. I may be wrong but I got my information in this magazine (or wherever you got it)."
This is a lot to do simultaneously. It's not easy. It's a discipline. Treat it like any other difficult skill and practice, practice, practice. The benefits to the person speaking are the satisfaction of being heard and understood. The person gets the joy of intimacy, a feeling of closeness, and the rare experience of talking with someone who really cares.
And what about you? You'll become a better person by practicing this discipline — you'll grow stronger and more perceptive. You'll improve your ability to concentrate. Your relationships will be more strongly bonded. You'll understand more about the people in your life. So practice listening. It will teach you about yourself and other people, and you'll win loyal allies and lifelong friends.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.