Truly listening to what somebody else is saying is about far more than just hearing the words they are saying.
Deep listening takes your understanding to another level and will boost your relationships and connections with others.
Here’s how to do it.
Devote your undivided attention to what is being said
First and foremost, devote your undivided attention to what is being said.
Even if this is just a quick interaction or short chat, open your ears and physically listen.
Take your hand off your phone, take your mind off your inbox and take your gaze off somebody walking by.
This can be very difficult in our modern age where we are so used to multi-tasking, but there’s no real shortcut.
If you don’t fully listen to what somebody is saying you are likely to miss the real significance of why they’re saying it or what they want from you.
Just listen to what is being said, even if it’s short. If it’s something quite long or complex, don’t be afraid to say “hold on, let me understand,” and recap what’s been said or make sure you got it.
Better slow and steady than fast and missing large chunks of what’s been said.
Listen without reacting right away
The next key to the art of deep listening and how to truly connect with others and improve your relationships is to listen without reacting right away.
We live in a fast forward culture of multitasking, as I mentioned.
The instinct is to jump in or react as soon as we form a strong thought or emotion.
If you strongly agree or disagree, the tendency is to say “wait, yes!” or “wait, what?” right away.
Let’s be honest:
This isn’t only about impatience, it’s also a kind of verbal bookmark.
When you’re listening to someone, at times you may jump in just out of fear you’ll “lose your place” in the conversation or forget a point you were trying to make.
But for deep listening to work, you need to go out on a limb a little and allow the person to at least finish their full thought without interjecting.
Allow the conversation or interaction to proceed past your immediate reaction.
You may have a lot to say, be confused, upset or euphoric. But allow the person (or people) to continue talking past the point when you’d generally jump in or provide your two cents.
In many cases, we’re sure we know what is being said once we hear the first sentence or a few buzzwords.
Sometimes that’s true.
In other cases, you may have strong feelings regarding the person who is speaking and feel like agreeing or disagreeing with them immediately as part of your feelings towards them.
Resist that impulse.
When you don’t react right away and let the person or people finish their thought, you may notice that new elements or ideas are introduced that could take this interaction in a very new direction.
Deep listening requires you to allow the chance of the unknown entering an interaction, instead of steering and controlling what’s being discussed right away.
Let it flow, and pay attention. Listen to what is being said rather than just immediately going into how you relate to what is being said.
You can often learn far more by listening than by speaking.
“Deep Listening is an ongoing practice of suspending self-oriented, reactive thinking and opening one’s awareness to the unknown and unexpected,” explains life coach David Rome.
Think about why this is being said
The next part of deep listening is to lock onto why this is being said.
To be fair, you can’t read somebody else’s mind, but you can intuit and estimate a lot of why someone is speaking.
Generally, we act in life due to wanting or needing something.
This doesn’t just mean in terms of gain, but also in terms of giving. Sometimes a person is talking to you because they need or desire to give you something, for example forgiveness or an explanation.
Even if you didn’t ask for it, this person is feeling the urge to forgive you for something you did, or explain something they did to you.
“Deep listening involves hearing more than the words of the speaker but taps into the deeper meaning, unspoken needs, and feelings conveyed.”
The reasons why somebody may be saying something are as many as the fish in the sea, but a list of common examples includes:
- They want to check your schedule to see if you’re busy next week
- They’re talking for the sake of talking and confused about their own goal in talking as well
- They like you and want to get to know you better
- They find you funny and want to joke around with you
- They care about you and want to see if you’re doing OK
- They’re making small talk to pass the time
- They’re feeling down and want somebody to talk to
- They have something to sell and see you as a potential customer
- They are sexually attracted to you and trying to get you to like them
- They feel insecure and want to showcase the best parts of themselves
- They’re interested in talking to somebody you know (or you) for a job opportunity
- They are upset about something you did and trying to confront you over it
- They want advice about an opportunity or problem in their life
- They share an interest in something you care about and are interested to talk about it with you
- They’re anxious and are looking to you to help calm or reassure them
These are only a few typical reasons why somebody may talk to you. There are thousands.
Of course, this brings up an obvious question about deep listening and understanding why somebody is talking to you.
How are you supposed to know?
Understanding why somebody is talking to you
As I said, you can’t read somebody’s mind in terms of why they’re talking to you.
But what you can do is listen and pay attention to details.
When somebody talks to you or seeks your attention, it’s often unclear why at first.
Are they just being friendly or do they want something?
Are they upset or are they interested in gaining your approval?
Do they have any particular reason for talking to you or are they just bored?
This relates back to the previous point about not reacting right away, because if you want to know why somebody is talking to you, you sometimes must have a bit of patience.
Now, I’m not saying to sit for three hours while an old friend chews your ear off about his new business in selling used golf gear just to show off (unless you want to).
But you can hear somebody out for five or ten minutes to figure out what the basic core of the interaction is.
Do they want something? Need something? Just saying hi?
Whatever it is, no problem!
Just make sure you give the interaction a bit of time so that you can get a better guess at what is wanted from it.
If necessary, don’t be afraid to ask as well.
“Thanks for calling” or “thanks for stopping by,” you can say “I’ve got to run in a minute, but was there anything else?”
At this point you’ve put in a time constraint and the person is more likely to let you know what it is they really wanted or just say “no, all good, just saying hi!”
There you go.
What reaction are they trying to get from you, if any?
As you understand or have a better guess about why somebody is talking to you, you can get at what they want you to do.
Perhaps they want you to say yes to a deal, or a date.
Perhaps they want you to laugh at their joke, or reassure them everything will be OK.
Perhaps they want you to say sorry for lying to them or being insensitive.
This is part of the deep listening.
It may sound a bit complex or mechanical, but deep listening is really just about tuning your antenna to listen to what’s really being said and why.
You hear what’s being said, you avoid reacting right away, you think about why they’re saying it and what they want from you.
Usually this becomes clear fairly quickly. If not, let the person talk a bit longer.
Now we get to your reaction.
What do you relate to or find disagreeable in what is being said? Why?
Do you find that what is being said matters to you?
Does it make you feel any particular way?
After giving a fair hearing to what this individual or group is saying, you now focus in on what, if anything you want to say or do in response.
Pay attention to how it makes you feel
Do you feel anything about what is being said to you?
Perhaps you just feel bored and want a way to politely exit the interaction…
Perhaps you feel annoyed but don’t want to start a fight…
Perhaps you feel interested to talk more but are genuinely short on time and need to run…
Pay attention to what you feel and why, because this is an important part of deep listening.
Every interaction is inherently subjective, because you can’t control the feelings of the person or people talking to you.
You can only pay attention to your own subjective and personal reaction to what is being said.
You may have any number of emotions or none at all.
Just do a check on what you’re feeling before you respond.
Is there something you can say that will deepen or bring more meaning to this interaction?
Your end of the deep listening is to listen, of course.
But when it comes to a response if any, think about what you can say that will add value or clarify what is being said.
Many times you are better off just continuing to listen or asking for what somebody means by something they said.
The more you understand, the more worthwhile and meaningful your response will be.
Whatever you say or do not say, in general come in on the side of saying less.
Deep listening also requires deep response.
Do you hear what I’m saying?
We all know people who truly listen, and we value them.
They are the ones we talk to when times get tough and to share with when we’re on top of the world.
The deep listeners of this life are hidden gems who bring so much to the lives of others and make our time here much more conscious, compassionate and meaningful.
When you take the time to listen, understand and care about what is being said to you, you draw people to you.
You not only attract opportunities and interest, you also defuse many potential conflicts and are able to gain enormous self-knowledge and self-awareness as well.
Paying attention to what is being said and why, as well as how you relate to it is a kind of meditative exercise.
It raises your consciousness and makes you able to understand so much more about the people in your life and your own relation to them.
“People will notice that you are more present and attuned. They will be drawn to your influence and leadership.
“As you learn and practice this skill, you’ll build better relationships and achieve better results on the job and more satisfying and successful personal relationships.
Allen is absolutely right.
Try deep listening and you will immediately notice the benefits in your life and relationships.
All it takes is patience and attention to detail.