A Listening Conversation

I wonder whether you will be as surprised as I was to find out that, according to my computer’s Thesaurus and Dictionary, listening is an antonym (an opposite) to conversation?

Conversation is defined as “an informal discussion of a topic among two or more people,” while listening is described as “giving one’s attention to sound.” Conversation, then, implies give-and-take, while listening suggests only receiving. What I call a ‘listening conversation’ is therefore biased toward listening – the talking into the conversation has more to do with asking clarifying questions than speaking one’s mind.

From this perspective, it would appear that we are losing the ability to carry on a conversation. We are often quick to speak, but slow to listen. We want to be heard, but we don’t necessarily want to hear what the other person has to say.

This is especially true in the workplace, where communication is often hampered by a lack of listening. In a fast-paced environment, it’s easy to get caught up in our own thoughts and agendas and forget to listen to others.

But Conversation is a two-way street, and if we want to be effective communicators, we need to learn to listen as well as talk.

Here are a few tips on having ‘listening conversations’, adapted from Urban Confessional’s Partner Guide.

  1. Remove any barriers. It is imperative that the speaker feels they have your entire attention. Never use your phone or other devices, and avoid waving at or engaging with anyone else during your time with someone. The chance to have all of someone’s attention is a rare event.
  2. Do we give advice? No, we are not licensed professionals. Resist the temptation to provide ‘answers’. Giving advice is not listening.
  3. A listening conversation is an imbalanced conversation. Listening does not mean that you are silent. You are having a listening conversation where most of the talking is coming from the person you are listening to (80% listening, 20% talking, max).
  4. Keep reminding yourself that you are there to understand the other’s world. Ask questions. Clarifying questions engage you both in the conversation and wanting to understand more.
  5. Identify and connect with feelings. ‘That must have made you feel…’ Remember that good head knowledge is freely available, good feelings may not.
  6. We are not there to change anyone’s mind. If someone is saying things you do not agree with or you find distasteful, search yourself for a greater understanding, smile, and simply be there for them. If they ask for your opinion, simply say, “I’m only here to listen, but that’s very interesting”, or redirect the discussion back to them by complementing their intellect or passion for the issue. Then ask if there is anything else they feel passionately about.
  7. Don’t interrupt. Let the other person finish speaking before you chime in.
  8. Repeat back what you heard. This ensures that you correctly understood the other person and shows them you were paying attention.
  9. Avoid making assumptions. We all have different experiences and perspectives, so don’t assume that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling. We all have different histories and ways of thinking. Go with their flow.
  10. Be patient. Conversation takes time, so slow down and enjoy the process.
  11. Respect silence. When moments of silence happen, allow them to happen. Resist the urge to fill the silence. It is often in these moments that the person will say what they have been scared to say, the thing weighing heaviest on their hearts. Stay there for them in the silence, and be patient. Let them fill it.

Learning to listen is essential for effective communication in all areas of life. By making a conscious effort to be a better listener, we can improve our relationships, our work performance, and our overall satisfaction with life. It may take an effort to listen until it becomes a lifestyle, but we can do a lot of good and learn a lot!

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