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Optional Listening

Most people are great at talking. Less so for listening.

So today, I’m going to share a quick lesson that can dramatically improve your listening skills. This will move you one step closer to becoming superhuman. Learning this skill will benefit all of the relationships in your life including, but not limited to, your boss, those who report to you, your peers, your spouse, your kids, and your friends.

Like I do with all lessons, before I give you the how-to guide, we need to start with some context.

The Rush to Judgement

When most people listen, they are waiting for their chance to talk.

…and it shows.

If you do this, don’t feel badly. I’m not calling you out. I’m pointing it out. We all do this, at times, but once you’re aware of it, you can choose to do something differently. So, let me ask you something.

  • Have you ever wanted someone to just sit there and let you talk it out?
  • Have you ever wanted someone (typically a close friend or family) to just nod along and not challenge you, regardless of how unreasonable you might be?
  • Have you ever wanted someone to listen to the entire story before offering their opinion?

Well, if you’re a human being, chances are, you’ve had all of these experiences. We all need different things from people at different times based on our emotional state or the stakes of the situation.

I’ll ask you one final question: wouldn’t it have been nice if you had the option to choose that before you started talking?

“How would you like to me listen?”

Here’s the new skill: give people the chance to tell you what they need.

For instance, when someone comes to you complaining about something, try this…

“Hey, just so I know, how do you want me to listen in this conversation? Would it be most helpful for me to let you vent? Do you want me to give advice or play devil’s advocate, or is it something else?”

There are a lot of ways to phrase this and different circumstances will call for different versions of this. The key point is that you want to resolve two open loops:

  1. What do they need?
  2. What’s my role?

These are two sides of the same coin.

  • By knowing what they need, you put yourself in the best position to serve them.
  • By knowing your role, you give yourself an option to play more roles in your relationships than “the advice person” or “the devil’s advocate.” This practice helps you to become a more well-rounded person who better serves those around you.
@ilanadegann Reply to @sunny___sunflowers ask and ye shall receive! #anxietea #mentalhealthmatters #supportsystem #supportingfriends #mentalhealthhealing ♬ original sound – ilana

This practice goes a long way. I’ve taught this technique to a number of people in my life. When presented with this sort of question, I have even caught myself saying:

“I just want you to listen and agree with whatever I say no matter how ridiculous it may sound. I’m just really heated right now and that’s what I need.”

After I’d gotten it all out, I felt better. That probably wouldn’t have happened if in the middle of talking it out, I was met with advice, or challenges to my perspective.

Listening is a gift we can give each other. Giving options with that listening, makes the gift that much more meaningful.

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