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The Lost Art of Listening, Pt. I: Why Am I Talking?

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

It’s likely that when you feel cut off while speaking, it’s by your closest family members, friends, and or colleagues. Have you ever wondered what it is that keeps so many of us from really listening? This two-part blog series will help you to understand and provide you with helpful reasons people tend to not hear one another, as well as easy-to-learn techniques that can help you to become a better listener and prioritize your relationships. Empathic listening, in particular, helps us to break through misunderstandings and conflict, which can be transformative.

In today’s world, we are communicating electronically most of the time, which makes listening more difficult. Distracted listening can be characterized by waiting for the other person to stop talking so that you can talk. This can be observed by body language or a distant look in someone’s eye while you’re speaking to them — it’s a lack of engagement and we all know what this feels like. Listening can be viewed as a “form of meditation.” To focus entirely on what the other person is saying, you have to clear your mind of everything else.

The Improv Approach

With improv, you can only react at the moment to what the other person is saying, as opposed to planning out what to say or how the conversation might go. To listen well, you have to get comfortable with the unknown — not knowing what you are going to say next or what questions might come up. According to Bryant, when listening is done well, it’s an “act of empathy.” It is done by making a conscious effort to see the world through the other person’s eyes and understand their emotions and feelings. When it comes to improv, Mr. Fuller has an interesting logic that may help you understand. See below:

“Improv, if properly taught, is really about listening to the other person, because there’s no script. It’s about responding. If you think about it, if you have an argument with your wife or husband, most of the time people are just waiting for the other person to finish so they can say what they’re waiting to say. So usually they’re these serial machine-gun monologues and very little listening. That doesn’t work in improv. If we’re on the stage, I don’t know what goofball thing you’re going to say, so I can’t be planning anything. I have to really be listening to you so I can make an intelligent — humorous or not — response” (Fuller). 

W.A.I.T: Why Am I Talking?

When it comes to listening, a helpful acronym that I often share with my clients is W.A.I.T. It stands for Why Am I Talking? First and foremost, you must listen with no judgments, but before you speak it might be helpful for you to question your own motivation. What are you about to say and why? This is a really good rule for anyone in a management or leadership position given that anything this person says can easily and quickly overwhelm a conversation or discussion, which can result in people shutting down. It’s okay for you to have all of the questions sometimes, and not all of the answers. Manage up, not down.

According to J.W. Marriot Jr, the Executive Chairman of Marriott International, the most important four words in the English language are: What Do You Think? When you ask people who you lead for their opinion, it shows them that you respect them and that you want to include them in your decision-making processes. Listen to your people and learn. Check out part two of this two-part blog series to continue learning about the lost art of listening.

If you would like to learn more ways to improve your listening and communication skills, therapy can help. Learn more about our counseling services online, and contact Symmetry Counseling today to get paired with a Chicago therapist for support.

Reference:

Bryant, A. (2022). How to be a better listener. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/be-a-better-listener

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