Stop thinking. Start listening. 

We need more listeners in the world. Listening is a skill we don’t learn at school, yet it is essential in all walks of life, not just in professions like psychotherapy, counselling and coaching. When we listen without judgement and let go of the need to fill the gaps or prepare what we want to say next, we’re giving the person talking a chance to get their thoughts out, uninterrupted. The world is full of people giving unsolicited advice without having any real experience. When we give advice, we take away responsibility and accountability, just like when we accept advice and then blame someone else if things go wrong. 

So, where to start? First, you need to find out your (non) listening pattern. 

1. What goes through your mind when someone else is talking? 

2. Are you thinking about what you want to say next? 

3. Or perhaps you think you know what the person is going to say to you? 

You end up trying to finish their sentences for them and inadvertently dominating the conversation (probably because the other person gave up trying to explain something…). There are many possible distractions and what is important is to know which ones prevent you from being a good listener. Once you get to know yourself, you can try to stop thinking and start listening. 

Listen to the keywords, notice those where the tone of voice changes. These are useful to remember when you want to clarify and reflect on what the other person said. Mirroring back key words will show the person that you have been listening. If you use your own words to describe what you just heard, that means you were thinking about what to say next. If you don’t understand something, ask. Never assume. Question everything and only then you can be sure you are as close as possible to what the other person is saying and feeling. 

Good listening skills are important in a situation where conflict is a possibility but also emotionally charged conversations when someone is upset. Don’t be afraid of silence. Often, people are comfortable with silence. It gives them an opportunity to sort out their thoughts. Maybe this is the first time they have heard those words out loud and they might need time and space to process what is happening. If they ask you why you are not saying anything just say, “I’m just giving you time.” 

To summarise: STOP thinking, LISTEN carefully to the keywords, MIRROR or repeat them back when reflecting, ASK open and clarifying questions. And don’t forget SILENCE. 

Written By Mia Cherry, WT Training