As the holidays approach, we are all looking for that perfect gift for those on our list. Consider giving yourself by taking the time to really listen to someone. Of course, this is not always as easy as it sounds. We might think we are good listeners but most of the time we are distracted by our own agenda. Sometimes what we hear triggers us to either change the subject or tell the person how to fix the problem. Whenever we start giving advice or talking about something else we are no longer listening.
Truly listening can be a difficult skill to master and like all essential skills it takes practice. Try giving someone your full attention for twenty minutes and use these tips to help you:
- Be present: To rid yourself of distractions try grounding yourself in the present. Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath and focus on the here and now. Take notice of the chair you are in, the temperature of the room, and most importantly the person you are with.
- Listen with interest: Focus on the content of what the other person is saying. It sometimes helps to visualize the story as it is being told. When there is a pause, instead of shifting the conversation, elicit more information. Ask “what happened next?” or “tell me more about…”
- Allow for silence: Sometime people need a moment to process their thoughts or reflect on what was just said. When there is silence, resist the urge to fill it with unnecessary words.
- Listen for the emotion: Most of what people say has an emotional undertone. Try listening to how the person feels about what he or she is telling you. You might even echo it back. “You must have been really proud,” or “That must have been painful.”
Whether it be with a family member, a friend or someone sitting next to you on a plane, the gift of presence is sometimes the most needed present of all.