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Listen. Just listen. People want to be heard.

It feels amazing when someone really listens, when they truly hear you, your thoughts, desires, and feelings. It is such a gift when someone takes the time to absorb what you have to say. We all want to be seen, heard, and known – for who we are, not for the projections that others put on us.

Imagine someone truly understanding your desires and needs. Imagine having your life experience witnessed without judgement. Imagine being heard without someone trying to own your story or to fix you. Wouldn’t that be exquisite? 

But it is a rare experience for most of us. Because listening is hard.

Why is listening so hard?

Our brains are so busy with many things that it is hard to just pause and listen.

Here are some things your brain is doing while you think you are listening:

  • It is looking for opportunities to get your emotional needs met. For example, it wants to find a way for you to belong or to look good. Or it is hunting for a problem to solve (because problem solving is a powerful habit and it feels so good).
  • It is comparing images from the other person’s stories to your own past to look for similarities (and potential connection points). But we get caught up in our own story while we think we are ‘relating’. 
  • It takes shortcuts because it likes to be efficient. It makes assumptions and jumps ahead to the end of the story. You have stopped listening, because you are formulating a response to have ready when it is your turn to talk.

Listening takes work and practice

It requires us to set aside our own thoughts, needs, memories and urges so we can allow the other person’s desires and stories to take centre stage.

Here are some tips for how to listen so you can build better connections with others.

  • Take a breath and set aside your own emotional drivers and needs.
  • When you think, “I know exactly what they mean”, check yourself. Because you do not know. Not exactly. And once you think this, you are no longer listening. Work a bit harder and keep yourself open for their version of this story. Listen for how it is different than yours.
  • When you think, “I know exactly how they feel” or, “I’ve had the same experience”, understand that this is not possible. Instead, listen to understand their personal experience.
  • Stop trying to solve other people’s problems.
  • Stop turning what others are sharing into a problem that needs to be solved. Listen for what they are trying to tell you. Maybe they just want to connect and share a part of their experience with you.
  • Start by monitoring what goes on when you are listening to others.

To learn more about listening and attention, take a look at our mini-course Pointing Attention.

Pointing attention

Look – a bird!

Used as joke, but this is illustrative of how easy we are distracted.

This short course is about attention and why it’s hard to hold.

Find out more