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Why It's So Hard to Listen Attentively to Others

We all think that listening is natural and something we all do well. But real listening, - listening that is profound, focused, and empathic, - is rare. For those who perform the modern manager roles of communicating and people managing, it is an essential skill. Here are 7 ways to learn and practise the art of listening.

1. Stop, Look and Listen

Skilled listening is total listening. It means stopping what else you are doing and giving yourself over, lock, stock and barrel, to someone else. When you are a total listener, your whole demeanour needs to say to the other person, "for the next few minutes, I want to focus on you, hear what you are saying, and understand you."

2. Take Yourself Out of Things

The biggest block to fully listening to someone else is what is going on in your own mind. If you hear yourself analysing what the other person is saying, thinking about it and planning your response, then you've stopped listening. You've simply picked up a few things and hurried to your own conclusions. Instead, listen to the end. Listen without interruption. And take yourself out of things.

3. Look Through a Window, Not a Mirror

When we talk to others, most of us interpret what people say through our own perceptions and understandings. In reality, we can do no else. Our view of the world has to be different from theirs. This is what is meant by looking at others through a mirror. In the art of listening, however, you should aim to see things according to how they see things, even if you yourself don't share their view. This is empathic listening, or seeing things through the window of their frame of reference.

4. Stay Tuned In Even When You Don't Like the Music

One of the greatest challenges for anyone performing the role of professional listener is to listen to someone who is talking about things that wouldn't normally interest you. Most of us are quickly turned off by things that are not on our favourite list of topics. When this happens in your professional role, don't switch off. Go to that point of listening more intently than ever, even if you have to ask more questions and seek more explanations.

5. Be Alert, Alive and Attentive

You can tell if someone is listening carefully to someone else. There is a stillness in their body and their mind, like a calm lake. They don't move. They give constant eye contact. They are as near as possible to being on the other person's wavelength. This is the quality of attentiveness and a key aspect of the art of listening.

6. Take Your Time

Focused listening is "present moment" listening. Time sometimes seems to stand still when you are fully listening to someone. You are not in a hurry. You don't think about what's just been said or what you're going to say next. You are only aware in a fluid, soft focus way of what is being said here and now. Paradoxically, taking your time to listen doesn't take you longer. In fact, it is the most efficient way to listen.

7. Respond to the Moment

While, in focused listening, you may spend most of your time doing nothing but listening, you may have to intervene at some points to respond. Always respond in the moment, in other words, to where people are. Don't have a plan of what to ask. Only ask questions that pick up what the person has just said and where they are. If you have nothing to say, then say nothing. That way, the exchange is a true meeting of minds.

Listening is a powerful tool in all kinds of communication. The more skilled you are, - to the point that it has become the art of listening as well as the act of listening, - the more successful will be your understanding and communication.