“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
A study showed that 70% of our waking hours are spent in communication with others, in some form, with almost half of that time taken up in listening. Reading, talking and writing were way down on the list.
So given that we spend so much of our communication in listening to others, do we do it effectively?
In his book, People Skills, Robert Bolton claimed researchers estimated up to 75% of oral communication is either ignored, misunderstood or quickly forgotten. Furthermore, he maintains that the quality of our friendships and the cohesiveness of our family relationships depends largely on our ability to listen.
“That went in one earand out the other.”
Learning to be an effective listener takes work. It’s not something that we are actively taught to do in our schooling, so how can we listen better?
Reflective Listening and Attending the Conversation
Are we always fully present and attending the conversation? Or thinking of the next thing to say? For instance, do we always follow the speaker in conversations and listen for the deeper meaning behind the words?
In true listening, we reach behind the words, see through them, to find the person who is being revealed.”
Paraphrasing the essence or intent behind the words you hear, can assist in conveying that you have understood correctly, (or give the speaker the chance to otherwise clarify what they meant).
Summarizing the content of another person’s words may nurture a deeper level of trust between them. Trust encourages the other person to further open up and may build more satisfying relationships.
Use Questions Wisely
If we notice a change in the body language of others, we might see cues that they are bothered by something. For example, a child comes home from school looking sad and the reaction from others is sometimes, “Come on, cheer up!” An adult who is becoming agitated about a situation is told, “Calm down.”
Firstly describe the other’s body language – “You look as if something is bothering you.” Or: “You look troubled/sad.”
Secondly, invite them to talk:
“I’ve got time if you would like to chat.”
“Do you feel like talking?”
“I am here if you want to talk about it.”
Be wary of leading the conversation by asking more than one question at a time. Most questions can be re-phrased as a statement. It is good to remember that questions should help the other clarify the problem, rather than provide information.
The beginning of wisdom is silence. The second stage is listening.
Silences in Conversations
Don’t be put off by pauses or silences as these momemts may allow the other person time to think of their answer or expand on what they want to say, at their own pace. During a pause in the conversation, you can still be fully present in the conversation by:
Using eye contact
Observing the other person’s gestures, facial expression during pauses
Adopting open encouraging, non verbal body posture and language
Keeping distractions such as checking the phone notifications, loud background etc music, TV to a minimum.
Focus on the Feelings and Emotions
Feelings are often triggered by specific events.
Society’s norms implicitly teach us to suppress our feelings with the undesired result that they might bubble up and overflow. If everyone acted on impulse and expressed feelings spontaneously, society would completely disrupt. So we have a balancing act between blocking our sensitivity to emotions and freely expressing them. Reflecting emotions and feelings back to the speaker is a way of doing that while respecting the speaker’s privacy.
I asked my daughter how her date went last night. “Okay.” was her subdued response. She wasn’t ready to talk about it, and was letting me know not to probe further. If I had not noticed her tone of voice, it could have meant it was just an average date. Her tone and body language was the key to deciphering the true meaning behind the words. Letting her know I was available, if she wanted to talk, gave her the chance to raise the subject when she was ready.
In developing empathy and reflecting the emotions of others, we can ask ourselves – if you were having that experience, how would we be feeling? Then we can put together the feeling, or emotion, and the fact with a familiar formula often used by professionals:
“You feel/are ..(insert the emotion or feeling word )….. since/because….(insert the trigger event or content associated with the feeling).
Bob: “My supervisor keeps asking questions about my personal life. I wish he’d mind his own business.
Marie: “It sounds like you are feeling pretty annoyed because he won’t respect your privacy.”
Something Further to Ponder
Have you used these techniques to improve conversations and support friends or colleagues? If so, how did they respond?
Are there other ways to develop better listening skills?
Germaine Greer is a legend in her own time, a leading feminist in the ‘burn the bra,’ era, yet Germaine has something to say about security.
“Security is when everything is settled, when nothing can happen to you; security is the denial of life.”
– Germaine Greer
If we think about those words, to live life we have to face risks. The trick is to balance that risk with practical common sense and find that happy medium between living and managing risk.
Recently I attended an Adventure Climbing Park. At my age, it is an unusual thing to do and I have not done it before. But it was now or never, I thought. Last Chance station. So I gave it a go.
The task was to climb trees, harnessed in for safety about 20 metres up a tall tree, and walk across progressively more difficult and wobbly bridges and ropes from platform to platform suspended high above the ground, with no exit until the end of the course.
I was keen yet I was terrified. Terrified of falling off the bridge and hanging in my harness mid-air 20 metres up, until some 20 something park attendant could rescue me. How he would rescue me, I did not know and that was even more terrifying! This single thought propelled me onwards when I doubted my ability to continue.
This task that I was so keen to undertake was way out of my usual comfort zone and was designed to test your physical strength and mental resilience. After several reasonably easy initial steps climbing nets that gradually took us higher and higher into the trees, I faced walking across a tightrope – still harnessed in.
This was a real challenge balancing and stepping carefully and I balked at it, thinking there was no way I could do it, but as there was no way down, I inched across sideways, little by little, hanging on to the harness for grim life, until I made it safely to the other side.
Richness has nothing to do with money, but rather a cool mind, free of tension and anxiety..
I heard these salient words at my exercise class last week and I thought how true they were. I am sorry I do not have the original source, and this time, Google could not help identify it.
How blessed one is to have a mind naturally free of worries of the future or regrets of the past. I needed to learn these simple lessons over time and many years.
It is worthwhile paying attention to those bad habits that rob you of mental strength.
Keep them in check as Marc and Angel point out:
When you’re sad, you might hunch your shoulders and look at the floor, but doing so keeps you in a depressive state. Put your shoulders back and smile, however, and you’ll feel an instant boost in your mood.
Feeling sorry for yourself, giving up after your first failure, and giving away your power are just a few of the habits that can wreak havoc on your mental weightlifting routine.
Giving up those unhealthy habits will help you work smarter, not harder.
“If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”
Most of the effort in problem solving is in firstly correctly identifying the real problem. Once it has been identified, a problem becomes much easier to break down into chunks. Find 15 minutes each day to slowly work through an issue that you have been procrastinating about.
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
Henry David Thoreau
Problems aren’t something to be ignored in the hopes they will disappear. A new problem might be seen as a new opportunity to progress further to the common goal.
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
“If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.”
Some years ago, I became fascinated with traditional proverbs and sayings, their metaphorical layers and the many different interpretations found within just a few, succinct words. I marvelled at their ability to transcend race, religion, opinions and age.
These often humble words, offer us knowledge; knowledge that is passed to us in much the same way relay runners might pass a baton. Once it’s handed over, it is up to us what we do with it and how we pass it on.
“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” ~Greek Proverb
The Chinese sages also appreciated their value:
Let us not forget the importance of creating nature; fostering and nurturing Mother Earth.
Trees provide so many benefits to our everyday lives. They filter clean air, provide fresh drinking water, help curb climate change, and create homes for thousands of species of plants and animals. Planting a Billion Trees can help save the Earth from deforestation.
Helping to Plant Trees
Depending on location, it costs between $1-$3 to plant a tree including ongoing maintenance and stewardship. Including organizational overheads, I see this as a real bargain, especially for something that might last 70 years!
The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees campaign is a major forest restoration effort with a goal of planting a billion trees across the planet.
So you don’t have the time or don’t want to get your hands dirty? I hear you, but you can still support the various organizations around the world depending on your preferred location.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” -John Milton
We hear it all the time. Mindfulness. The advice to practise mindfulness as a way to deal with troublesome thoughts.
Why does Mindfulness help?
It’s impossible to stay strong when you’re rehashing something that happened last week or predicting that horrible things are going to happen tomorrow. Mindfulness is about staying present in the moment. And since the only time you can change your behavior is right now, it’s important to be able to focus on the here-and-now.
Our minds become more resilent to stress and less prone to anxiety, if we maintain focus on the here and now; meaning the present moment. The future and the past are, after all, not our reality, but only mental constructs over which we have no, or little, influence. Trying to live in two dimensions at once creates stress for ourselves.
The present moment is the only real time concept we can fully experience, with our senses.
Confucious understood this saying,
“Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”
Buddha considered the secret of good health was not to mourn the past, or worry about the future, cautioning against anticipation and encouraging the use of each moment wisely and earnestly.
As if each moment was a priceless gift.
Because each moment is a priceless gift that will never return again.
Staying mindful removes the immediate stress for a mind that might continue to worry or dwell on what has gone before.
The present moment is a concept so very difficult to grab hold on to; for it is transient, dynamic and we might rail against letting it go. Even as we ponder its nature, it has passed us by. Gone.
Some of us keep the past, or future, alive in our minds, through repetitive thoughts. Our minds, in idle moments, stray back to past events, or happier times. If those thoughts are negative, and we think them often enough, we can do ourselves real mental damage or initiate a stress reaction in our body.
Strategies for Mindfulness
Stay in the moment
Look around you and note your environment
Notice where your focus lies and your own body’s natural breath
Is your breath short, sharp and shallow, or deep and long? Focusing on the breath is a way to stay mindful
Be Mindful and Ground yourself with the following exercise
Questions for the Self
Are you able to be mindful, keeping thoughts aligned with the present moment?
Can you break your day down and stay with those moments?
Besides Grounding, what is it that helps you to do this?
It is fairly well recognized that counting your blessings, as opposed to your burdens can have a huge impact on your psychological health.
Studies have demonstrated that showing gratitude for even the most basic things can have reduce depression and increase contentment.
How to Find Gratitude in life?
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
We cannot travel to, own, earn, win or consume happiness, but we can find it in gratitude in our daily lives, as Albert Clarke said,
“We must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Many writers and philosophers considered thankfulness to be the highest form of thought, almost a spiritual experience. Acting thankful is something that inevitably leads to gratitude.
Buddha took this to an extreme.
Let us be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.
Gratitude as a Daily Habit
Marc and Angel suggested making gratitude a daily habit by:
..intentionally identifying three things in your life you are grateful for. It could be as simple as feeling thankful for the clean water that comes out of your faucet or appreciating the cool breeze on a warm day.
List the things you feel grateful for over dinner, or make it a habit to identify what you’re thankful for before you go to bed. Over time, being thankful becomes like second nature, and you’ll experience benefits ranging from improved sleep to greater immunity.
Marc and Angel
Do you make gratitude a daily habit?
For me, feeling and showing gratitude can reset my mind from its daily worries, anxieties and concerns. Concerns that, at times, feel quite overwhelming.
Thinking of the things I am grateful fore, can help ground me, re-focusing my attention on what I do have, on what is around me.
Many aspects of my life are not ideal, are unfair and may never change. And yet, there is still so much I can be grateful for, even in circumstances not so ideal.
Could you identify three things you’re grateful for each and every day?
Do you ever think about what youwant to happen in a forthcoming situation? Or does worry get in the way and you tend to focus on what you don’t want to happen?
The Ego and Finding Fault
It seems our ego focuses naturally on the negative aspects, due to an outdated evolutionary adaptation and we are then in a postion that makes us hard-pressed to see positives.
Fault finding comes from believing your happiness comes from the world according to your liking.
We then tend to find fault with whatever is going on, to blame others or circumstances, especially where the outcome has been less than, what we consider, satisfactory.
This may have helped us survive in pre-historic times, where man-eating beasts lurked close by, but is hardly relevant to modern life. Now, our egos flood our brains with self-critical thoughts, most of which are not terribly accurate and anxiety quickly follows.
Lee Jampolsky once asked a stressed-out salesman,
“What is the real purpose of a sale?
Replying about his own needs and that he wanted to boost his sale stats, Jampolsky then encouraged the salesman to instead direct his thought focus outwards – ie. so that his real purpose in a transaction or interaction would be that he was genuinely interested in the person he was selling to, in being patient and kind and, to try to ‘see’ the customer’s heart.
To the salesman’s surprise, his sales rose significantly and he was no longer so stressed when he followed that sageful advice. His customers picked up on those non-verbal and verbal signals that he ‘cared.’
Without the ego naturally defaulting to negative, there is room in our minds for all sorts of alternative thoughts.
Contemplating a more positive goal at the beginning of any situation may help influence the outcome, (even if you are not convinced of its worth, at first).
What Went Wrong?
Don’t waste your precious time on analysing what went wrong with a situation. Ignore those feelings that you have been short-changed in lifeas they tend promulgate the victim concept, which only makes you feel worse.
Think about what your goal is, making it pertinent to your perception and personal actions and see what happens.
We can attract the exact things that we give thought oxygen to or dwell on.
Jampolsky believes that we can direct ourselves to be peaceful inside regardless of what is happening outside.
An ever so slight adaptation of a quote from William James.
When things are grim for Christmas in your part of the world, it may help to ponder an old Norwegian saying: “behind those those dark clouds, the sky is always blue”. The old Norwegians did not have an easy life through the long, harsh, unforgiving winter. One group of settlers died out, literally starving to death in Greenland, but even so they balanced their negative thinking with such a positive saying.
In olden times, a negative attitude may not have been conducive to a successful community. They may have had to put emotions on the back burner and concentrate on sourcing or rationing meager food supplies. Life priorities were vastly different and yet, all that time these old people were fostering self-reliance and resilience to adversity.
We can learn much from their attitude if we are open to it.
What do you think? Is action correlated with our level of happiness?
We spend a lot of time in our own headspace, either at work or at home relaxing. In lockdown, some of us might be alone with our emotional thoughts, much more than we have ever experienced before.
This level of introspection, or mulling over problems, can get to a person, especially if they are a deep thinker or highly sensitive.
Concentration, Energy and Motivation
The extent to which we are occupied by our emotional-driven thoughts is often the extent to which energy is diverted away from our working memory, our concentration and motivation. We find it hard to concentrate on our work when we have something on our mind. The monkey mind, it is often called.
Caught Up in Our Emotions
We talk about being caught up in our emotions and it can feel like being trapped inside your own head. At these times, it is hard to re-focus on matters at hand. Our worry or frustration centres switch on and at times, go into, ‘overdrive.’
But those thoughts in our worry centre, are not reality-based thoughts. They are magnified, exagerrated, skewed or biased. We are so much more than those thoughts. Thoughts are not who a person is. Yet we give them power over our moods.
Just like a loud noise that bothers us, trying hard to block it out, will inevitably make the noise appear louder. This is because our focus on the noise has increased. We might even become angry and frustrated.
If we can’t remove the offending noise, we must decrease our focus in order to tolerate the annoying noise, or the many frustrations of our lives. If our attention is diverted away from focusing on the noise or the frustrations, we tend not to notice it and its persistence wanes.
Practising Mindful Strategies to Prevent Worry
Similarly, we can re-focus our attention away from the abyss of introspection, by practising ‘Mindfulness‘ techniques, which are designed to assist us in staying within the present moment. The only time we can act and live is right now, in the present moment. Everything else, the past and the future is only a construct of our minds, so focus on the here-and-now.
The Glennon Doyle and Buddha quotes may have been at odds, but one might assume their objectives were the same.