When we’re having a conversation with someone, and not talking, we’re listening. But do you know what it means to listen? And did you know there are actually multiple ways you can listen to someone? The way you listen to a friend, family member, coworker, etc., can greatly influence your relationship with that person.
In order to strengthen your relationships, it’s important that you know the types of listening and how you can improve your ability to listen. In this article, we will dive into the different types of listening that you may need to do, tips for improving your communication skills, and the best way to strengthen your relationships through conversation.
Listening vs. Listening Hard
When you’re listening to someone, there are layers of communication happening. First, there’s the intention of what the person talking to you is wanting to say. Then, there’s what they’re actually saying. These two things don’t always align. Just because someone intends to say something one way doesn’t mean that’s how it comes out of their mouth.
Next comes how you’re interpreting what they’re saying. As the listener, it’s not up to us to determine what their intentions are, but so often, we’re hyperfocused on what we’re making their words mean. A lot of times, because we’re so worried about what their words might mean, we don’t really hear what they’re saying.
When we interpret what someone says to us as hurtful, it causes us to feel hurt, angry or frustrated. But the truth is, what they said didn’t hurt you; your thought about what they said is what hurt you. When we recognize this, we can understand that no one has the power to create our emotions—only we do. This makes it exponentially easier for us to listen hard instead of just listening.
Listening hard means you’re listening for their intentions, you’re listening for what they’re actually saying, and you’re listening for what you’re making it mean (and therefore how it’s making you feel). At first, this may feel overwhelming—how can you do all of these things at the same time? It will be a challenge at first, but you will get the hang of it.
How to Listen Hard
As you learn how to listen hard, you’ll want to start by evaluating your conversations after they’ve occurred. This is a very common coaching technique. If you feel a certain way after you’ve had a conversation, take time to break down what the person said, what you thought about what they said, and what you believe their intentions may have been.
There are a couple of ways to break down your conversation:
- Ask yourself why that person said what they said. It’s important that you focus specifically on the answer to that question in their brain and not your own.
- Ask them why they said what they said. This is one way to get an answer from their brain that completely clarifies the situation for you. If you don’t feel comfortable flat out asking them this question, when you listen hard, you’re always looking for the intention behind their words.
When you’re able to listen hard, you can take action from a place of compassion instead of defense. If you are a coach, this is how you hold space for your clients.
Tips for Improving Communication
Whether you’re doing the listening or the talking, it is so easy to default to blame, defensiveness, and frustration. There’s this primal need in each of us to be right all the time. But this need to be right puts our relationships at risk when we don’t know how to communicate the right way.
One of the best things you can do in any of your relationships is to throw out the idea that either of you is right or wrong. There are no winners or losers when it comes to having a conversation—there’s simply how. As soon as you can recognize the fact that you don’t have to be right, there’s no reason for you to be defensive. If you’re not defensive, the other person doesn’t have to be offensive. It’s literally a win-win situation.
When to Say I’m Sorry
Sometimes when you’ve made someone upset from something you’ve said (even if it’s just because of how they interpreted what you said), you will need to apologize. Saying I’m sorry is a beautiful opportunity to clear up any miscommunication and misinterpretation that occurred. Apologies can be so easy too.
This ties back to the best way to communicate: throwing out the idea that you have to be right. When you’re willing to apologize, you’re able to soften the conversation and open it up to clarification. Saying I’m sorry (when needed) is one of the best ways to connect with another person. It shows you’re taking responsibility for what you said (again, even if this is only necessary because of how they interpreted it).
Confidence in Communication
Whether you’re listening or talking, it’s important to be confident. If you’re familiar with the Model, you know that this comes from your thinking. If you feel like you’re going into a situation and aren’t communicating the way you’d like, take a look at how you’re managing your mind.
Learning to manage your mind correctly is key to feeling confident in your communication. Believe that what you’re saying is important. On the other hand, if you go into a situation feeling like you need to defend yourself, it’s likely coming from a place of insecurity.
Before you communicate with someone, ask yourself how you’re feeling about what you’re going to say. If the answer to that question is that you’re feeling negative emotion, you need to change the way you’re thinking about it first. There is always a different way to think about it, and there’s always a more beneficial way to say what you’re wanting to communicate.
To learn more about the art of listening and communication, check out The Life Coach School’s coaching program called Self Coaching Scholars.