Loving Better Means Listening Better

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We live in an age of constant distractions and notifications. We also live in an age where loneliness is becoming an epidemic.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Let’s admit it.  Listening is hard when multitasking is a way of life. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean we can’t do it.  For goodness sake, we’re grown adults. 

My attention is constantly going multiple directions at once.  There have been SO many times when I asked my husband a question and I can’t even remember what his answer was because my mind was hopping all over the place. For instance, at the end of the day when I ask him how his day was, I am also hearing my phone ding with notifications, and I’m cooking dinner, and letting the dogs out, and clearing the table and wiping up my spills because I’m a messy cook.  Often in the back of my mind a writing idea is floating around but I really don’t know where it will take me because stopping to actually follow that train of thought for any length of time seems impossible. 

It is embarrassing to ask my favorite human to repeat what he just said in reply to a question I just asked him!  But, since it’s even worse to pretend I was listening and never really connect with what he is saying,  I apologize and tell him that I need him to say it again. So believe me when I say that I’ve had to put some real thought into how I can honor the people I care about and listen when they are speaking. Here are a few of the things are helping me become a better listener.

1.    Make eye contact.

Do I really need to mention this?  Well, yes, because even when I know in my mind that listening gets easier when I fix my gaze on the person or people in a conversation.  Oh how subtly I will shift my eyes to my phone when I hear a notification come in (or when there is any bright shiny object within a mile radius).

Not only is eye contact is imperative when we want to hear what is being said, it is a powerful way to visually confirm to others that we are engaged in what they are saying. Plus, there’s an extra level of understanding that comes when we use our eyes to listen. There are so many clues behind our eyes about how we are really doing that we totally miss if we aren’t making eye contact.  Observing facial expressions and body language help us really notice whether or not someone's words match with what their face and body are saying.  If they say they’re fine but they aren’t smiling and their shoulders are slumped, they need you to notice and inquire further.

I meet with a group of female entrepreneurs who live in the Indianapolis area and, as we were introducing ourselves in our first meeting, it was so fun to watch each woman’s face as she began talking about what she is passionate about.  Dimples came out, eyes lit up with joy and fists beat the table as these women divulged the things that made them leave secure jobs to pursue their callings.

Long story short….we miss a whole lot when we don’t use our eyes to deepen our communication with each other!

2.    Listen with your whole body.

Constantly doing things with your hands or (especially) holding your phone during a conversation dramatically decreases concentration.

I’m a sensory person – constantly fiddling with objects or feeling things with my fingers. I have one scarf with purple trim that consists of little fuzzy balls, and when I’m wearing that scarf I can’t leave that soft, squishy trim alone!  It feels so good to roll it around with my fingers; I hardly know I’m doing it.  There are times when having something in my hands can actually help me concentrate, but when those things distract me from a conversation I have to make the conscious effort to stop touching them! Maybe this is weird.  But for me, it's a way I need to stop my body from distracting my mind from really hearing and understanding what someone is saying.

Turning away from the center of the conversation can offer important clues about whether or not you are truly engaged in the conversation. Trust me, leaning your body toward the conversation and putting down distractions are essential for communication to happen!

3.    Listen with your heart.

Listening with your heart means mentally putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. It requires listening not just to the words they are saying and noticing clues in their body language, but also feeling what they might be feeling. 

Do you ever have conversations in which the other person constantly interrupts you or continually brings conversations back to talking about himself or herself?  Those are conversations in which the other person might be hearing words you are saying, but their attention is still not fully focused on what you are communicating.  These are unpleasant conversations because you never really feel heard.

Communication really starts happening when we are connecting to another person’s soul and allowing ourselves to see – even for a few moments – what the world is like from their vantage point.  Without our hearts connecting with others, we might be surrounded people constantly and even talk a whole lot, but never really connect. 

Loving better means connecting – REALLY communicating - with our minds and hearts. That kind of connection just doesn’t happen without intentionality. So let’s try it this week and see what a difference good listening makes with the people we encounter. 

If you make any discoveries or notice that your conversations take on a new level of depth, we hope you will share your stories with others in the Love Better Community.  It takes all of us to engage in conversations, learn from each other and keep raising the bar so we can connect with others authentically and compassionately!

Emily SutherlandComment