Improve listening skills is an extraordinary skill to develop, which pays great dividends in personal relationships.
The one downside that I have discovered is that if folks get a sense that I can do this, and because so few of us do it well, I am invited to listen and listen and listen, even when my four year old daughter is demanding my attention.
So listening well demands that I be able to set boundaries ("Can you excuse me for a moment, my daughter is setting fire to the cat..., I'll be right back.")
But improving listening skills can be done.
When I am teaching my domestic violence education groups, I teach listening skills by modeling, and by discussion.
But the first step in listening in to make a mental commitment to doing just that.
The next step is to realize that listening is a dynamic process, and I will get distracted, day dream, ect, and actually not hear, and that the process is retrievable with a question to repeat.
My mentor in the domestic violence process, Tony Kubicki, called his listening model giving the "gift of attention" and the key step in it is to repeat in my head what my speaker is saying.
Let me repeat that. I repeat in my head the words the speaker is saying, which means I cannot be preparing my retort for a breathless interjection.
I also need to pay close attention to the speakers non-verbal communication too, which will amplify the speaker's words with feelings, and most of those feelings will change very rapidly and be communicated by facial expression, posture, and movement.
Depending on the amount of information I can store in short term memory, I will need to repeat back to my speaker what I have heard from them, and ask if I am accurate, sooner or later.
I usually let the speaker know that I may have to interrupt to do that, so I can clear the cache, so to speak, and if the speaker loses track of where they were, I need to remember their last phrase or two to cue them to where they were.
A very important part of that reflection or active listening process, is to ask if I heard them accurately.
If I summarize and the speaker says I did not hear accurately, then I need to ask them to repeat their thoughts to me until I do get a report that I am accurate.
If the speaker says they do not want to repeat, and want to develop a new thread, then I need to keep the older thread in memory for later exploration, and I could take notes.
Soon making the mental commitment to listening and following these steps becomes a habit, and I can repeat them as necessary.
I think it is important to say that not every communication must be listened to with such great attention.
We humans can share joy, humor, mischief, dismay, disgust, amazement, pride, ect. with those we trust without following the above steps, because when I speak to my family or friends for example, I am often speaking to share something I hope will please them and enhance their life.
(To establish a level of trust may involve listening closely in the early days of the relationship.)
If perhaps I need something a little deeper, with a friend, maybe I want to ask them to listen, and I say at the beginning, thanks for listening to me process my feelings about this event, and I do (or do not) need feedback or potential solutions.
So the entire process of listening becomes a function of curiosity and a commitment to give the gift of attention to another human being.
I will have to decide frequently about making that decision or limiting it.
If my little girl or son or my wife present asking for time, it is easier, but if I am busy writing a report or doing billing, and a casual acquaintence wants to talk lawn fertilizer, I may set a boundary about whether I am going to do that right now.
Setting that boundary would call for assertive speaking, which is also a very important part of communication, but that will be for another page.
When I was beginning my personal growth journey, a wise person told me that when I was feeling resentful or afraid or sad, that I should remember the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was ready to feel better. That phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
Would you share what you are most grateful for? Your story could be just what another person is searching for to renew themselves? Thanks.