If you asked me a few years ago if I was a good listener, I would have hands down said yes. I was empathetic, I tried to understand where people were coming from and I would not judge. However, it was not until recently that I realised that I was not such a great listener, well not as good as I thought anyway, and this is why.

I would listen to respond

Whether it was in a romantic relationship, at work or in other passing conversations with friends and family, I would listen only to respond and to get my point across. My position was defensive, and I didn’t even realise it. There were only three reasons why I heard you, and they were to respond, defend, or to blame. Then I would wonder why some of my conversations were frustrating, repetitive and sometimes depressing.

What I also learnt was that you can come across to others as a good listener without really being one. I manage to nail a few of the qualities of a good listener but failed at the biggest hurdle.

Signs of a good listener

I would not interrupt – I rarely did this, so this made the other person think I was fully involved

I was empathetic – Yes, I got this down, maybe too much sometimes

I checked my emotions – I would try not to let my feelings cloud my conversations.

So on paper, I ticked the critical boxes of a good listener, or did I?

I missed the two biggest tricks

I wasn’t aware of my biases and perception filters

I was not remotely aware of my biases or judgements. We don’t realise it, but when we are having a conversation with someone who we have previously experienced conflict or difficulty with, our bias or perception of them can override our ability to listen actively. I did this a lot! I would almost go into a conversation preempting the outcome and then almost pat myself on the back when it ended up the way I had predicted. I would blame the other person for “acting to type” and reacting the way I expected, putting the blame on them without realising that my preconceived ideas shaped the direction that the conversation went in.

I started to listen to understand

Once I realised this, I began to change the way I entered into conversations and started to listen to understand and not to respond.

I started to focus on truly listening to others consciously – not to find a counter-argument or to prove who is right or wrong, not to immediately jump in and share my own story – but to understand their position and to go from there. Listening to understand is critical in effective communication, conflict resolution, and healthy relationships.

Now I am nowhere near nailing this all the time, but I am getting there. However, the first step comes from being self-aware, and everything else falls into place after that.

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