The difference between listening and agreeing.

In my experience, one of the things that stops us from truly listening to the other is the fear that listening might indicate that we agree with what they are saying.

What if we don't agree? Should we not start making our case right from the first sentence? Does silence not mean assent?

Not so. Just hear me out. :)

Listening to, and agreeing with, are two different communication processes. And in between the two lies a third one – understanding.

When someone is sharing their experience, their feelings or their thoughts, there is really nothing to agree to or disagree with. The experience, the feelings and the thoughts belong to the person who is having and sharing them. Our role is simply to hear them out and to understand them (if we wish to be connected to them, that is).

For statements or conversations that do require agreement or disagreement (such as making plans or finding a solution to a problem) understanding the conversation before we agree or disagree with it is...

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Change your intention

According to the vast majority of experts on communication, most of us listen only with the intention to reply.

We filter what is said so that we can focus on what we can challenge.

We are having our own little conversation in our heads, coming up with a suitable response that will prove our point. Instead of listening, we are "just preparing to speak."

We act like lawyers for the prosecution and the defense and focus on how we can decimate our opponent and the premise of their argument.

Oops . . . did I say decimate? Did I say opponent?

Is this a person that we care about? A person that we are in relationship with? Is that not why they are trying so desperately to get through to us?

How about we put aside the cross examination skills that we may have learnt from Harvey Spectera and Alicia Florrick on TV just for the moment?

And try listening to understand.

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Why listening well is SO challenging

Listening well, as we began saying last week, is arguably one of the most challenging skills in communications. AND it is absolutely critical to building meaningful connections with others.

Let us try and understand some solid reasons why it is so challenging so that we can move beyond the challenges.

Firstly, a study at Princeton University found that there is a lag between what you hear and what you understand. Depending upon the individual, it could be between a few seconds to up to a minute.

This is where the trouble starts.

During that lag-time, we start to listen to ourselves and not to the other person. Have you noticed how you start having a conversation while another person is speaking? Making judgments and assumptions about they are saying and about to say?

While this is happening, of course our understanding of what the other is saying has plummeted.

What causes the lag time between hearing and understanding? Filters such as our physical and emotional state or external...

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Listening is uncomfortable

Listening to somebody express their needs, their problems, their pain, their frustration or sadness is not easy and it is not fun. It touches your heart, makes you anxious and you want to make it all better.

As soon as possible.

And so you start offering solutions to make the other person feel better…

"Cheer up. Its not so bad."
"Look on the bright side"
"Be grateful. There are so many people who have it much worse"
"Be positive. Its all in your mind."
"Don't be sad (or angry, or upset, or frustrated or whatever). It will get better soon".

A question for you: how is that working out for you and for your relationship?

Does the person thank you for your wisdom, calms down, takes your advice and becomes cheerful?

No, I didn't think so.

Here's the thing: there is a time for listening and a time for offering support, guidance or advice.

And you generally have to do one before you can do the other.

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Why work on listening?

There are many many reasons why it is important to work on our listening skills. Apart from being a key skill in the workplace and in life, it is not an overstatement to say that the art of listening is critical to successful relationships.

Without listening, we have what George Bernard Shaw called "the illusion of communication". We can tell when there exists a lack of listening in a relationship when there are frequent misunderstandings, hurt feelings and feelings of frustration regarding unmet emotional needs.

It is said that being listened to is so much like being loved that most people don't know the difference.

Truly listening to another human being and allowing another person to express themselves without interrupting, judging, refuting, or discounting is a gift of love – a sacred gift - that we can offer.

For the one expressing themselves, being listened to, heard and understood is like emotional oxygen. When the core human need to be listened to and understood is met,...

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Test yourself on your listening skills

How do you know if you listen well or not?

Here are some questions to reflect on.

Do you:

Tend to speak more than others.
Interrupt, and believe this is a natural part of conversation.
Think ahead, finishing peoples sentences for them.
Come to conclusions quickly and form options of what needs to be done before the speaker is finished.

Get impatient if the speaker is slow and taking a while.
Find yourself thinking about what you want to say instead of  concentrating on what the speaker is saying.

Are easily distracted.
Fake attention when listening to others
Make judgments about the speaker.

Want to get to the bottom line quickly.
Want facts rather than ideas.

Are not interested in how people feel, you just want to know what they've done.
Often forget what people told you.
Listen selectively, dipping in and out of attentiveness.

Are more interested in content than feelings.
Don't observe body language and facial expressions, and stare into space while listening.
Tend to listen without...

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How well do you listen?

Turns out that most of us think that we are better listeners than we are.

We may vocally interrupt while the other is speaking, change the conversation to something else, insert our own experience or say something to distract the other person.

And just because our tongues are silent while the other is speaking does not mean that we are actually listening, even though our ears may pick up the sounds emanating from the other person.

The vast majority of us are too busy in our own heads while we are in conversation with someone else. We might be formulating our response, making a witty comeback, poking holes in what the other person is saying, or telling our own counter-story to the story that the other person is telling.

In other words, we are having a conversation with ourselves in our heads while pretending to be listening to the other person.

That is why it is said that a "conversation is a vocal competition in which the one who is catching his breath is called the listener". As we...

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10 tools to calm ourselves


Let's review the tools we have explored to become less reactive and to develop emotional and mental balance.

Here they are, available as always, in the Daily Wisdom archives

#1 Aim for mental and emotional balance
#2 Develop a mantra
#3 Be like Teflon
#3 Live in a bubble
#4 Don't take it personally
#5 Be an observer
#6 Have an inner smile
#7 Expand your awareness
#8 Notice the gift of the rain puddle
#9 Seek understanding and be curious
#10 Meditate, even a little

Which have you tried? Which ones are working for you?

Do you have others? If so, do share!

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Meditate, even a little

We cannot really talk about calming down and developing emotional balance without mentioning meditation. So today's practice to develop equanimity is: Learn to meditate, even just a little.

Meditation means so many different things to different people and it is such a deep topic that we won't get into details here, but the essence of meditation is training your mind and your attention, disentangling it from thoughts and emotions and observing one's experience as it happens.

Taking just a few minutes a day to become silence, look inward and tune into what is happening in our internal world can foster peace of mind and the perspective needed for equanimity.

Meditation works best if it is consistently practiced in small doses over time. Think of it like a vitamin and not a Tylenol. Just like a vitamin can increase physical wellbeing and immunity over time, meditation gradually increases emotional wellbeing and stamina.

Meditation practiced consistently over time reprograms our brains...

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Be curious

When someone triggers you, it is easy to slip into judgment, getting on a moralistic high horse, making them the villain of the interaction and yourself the victim.

An effective way to switch out from this (downward) spiral of thinking is to get curious.

Get curious about what in their life or environment could be causing them to act out in this manner.

It is easier to deal with someone's behaviour when you become curious and seek understanding about what could be going on for them.

For bonus points (towards self empowerment and happiness) allow yourself to feel compassion for them. . .

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