This article aims to bring-out the key ideas in the book “You’re Not Listening” by Kate Murphy. There are lots of people who want to talk, but there are much fewer people who are truly willing to listen. Think back to a time when you were mid-conversation, did you feel truly engaged? Were you processing what they were saying, trying to find meaning and emphasizing with their points? Or were you preparing your next shots to fire back at them?
Why you should be listening
“By listening to others, it is inevitable that you will expand your world-view and expand your thinking”
I guess we are not completely to blame for not listening, from a young age being told to listen meant you were in trouble and now the virtues of listening aren’t upheld in modern media with debates and talk-shows depicting more of a shouting match than a forum to discuss ideas.
But, by working on our listening skills and trying to improve them, we can expose ourselves to a wider range of thoughts and opinions. The more people you listen to and the more sides of an issue you consider, it is inevitable that you will expand your worldview and enhance your thinking.
So what can we do about it? Well here are 5 things Kate Murphy suggests might help…
5 steps to become a better listener
1. Create the right environment and culture
Before any words are even said, it is important that an environment and culture which is conducive towards listening is created.
You need to be able to hear what the other person is saying – things like physical spaces should be free from annoying distractions.
It is also important to have a culture and belief system where the virtues of listening are upheld. Inspiration can be taken from Google, where it was found that their most productive teams were the ones where members spoke roughly in the same proportion. Members took turns and ensured that people paid attention to everyone and each point was heard out. If there is not an atmosphere of psychological safety then people may not be willing to share things in the first place.
2. Be Curious
Your goal should be to approach conversations with a position of genuine curiosity. Ask yourself, why does this person think this way? What could be making them feel like this? And try to avoid being judgemental too early on.
By being curious you should not be anticipating how a conversation will go down. Try not to anticipate what will be said next or go into conversations with preconceived judgements. Try to leave conversations feeling like you have learned something rather than confirmed something you believed to already be true.
If you can’t resist debating others – try to listen for evidence that you may be wrong – instead of only listening for holes in their arguments.
3. It’s more than just words – pick up on other cues
How something has been said can be just as important as what has been said. Imagine a friend confides in you that they have lost their job. Now the easy way to approach this may be to give the generic “I’m sorry – you’re better off without them anyway” but a smart listener will also listen to how things have been said. Maybe their voice might crack on the topic of their family, or they sound excited about their alternative prospects – depending on how things are said will determine how the conversation should go.
But you should not only be listening when others are speaking. Listen when you are speaking too. Gauge whether the other person is interested, what seemed to delight and what seemed to offend? You cannot be compelling or entertaining if you do not consider how the person in front of you feels.
4. Create an invitation to conversation
Speaking to others shouldn’t involve running down a checklist to make others think you are being polite. Imagine you’ve met with a friend – your initial instinct may be to run down “How are you, What is your family up to, What’s your plans” whilst it seems polite, you may find yourself not listening to the answers.
Try to ask open and honest questions and listen attentively to their answers. Treat each time you are talking to somebody as an invitation into a conversation rather than a checklist to be completed.
5. It’s about the other person – show them it is
It is important to have a good listeners demeanour. When someone is speaking to you, your focus should entirely be on them and don’t give them any indication that you would rather be somewhere else.
When you want to listen to somebody, your brain should feel like it is working, processing the information and finding meaning within it.
Try to also be a supportive listener rather than shifting the emphasis onto yourself regularly.
Imagine these examples:
John: I’m not feeling the best today
Mary: Me too – I’ve had the worst day, not sure what to do really!
John: I’m not feeling the best today
Mary: Oh no. Tell me about it
The supportive response lets you dig deeper into understanding the other person, instead of prematurely shutting down their statement and making about yourself.
Overall, listening does not always have to involve teaching, critiquing or appraising. Sometimes you are just there to understand the speaker’s point of view and not sway it.
Hopefully these insights are useful – sometimes listening doesn’t have to involve lecturing others, it just means being there for others.
Make sure to check out the book below and pick up more insights!You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters