Active listening strengthens our relationships

Active+listening+strengthens+our+relationships

Isabela Ney

Everything we do as a productive society requires focus, but we make attempts to divide our focus among multiple things and think of ourselves as masters of TCOB, or taking care of business. The problem with this split attention is that we miss out on significant details, or may even miss the point entirely. Would you need to reread a paragraph you just traced with your eyes if you had been fully engrossed the first time around? Not only does split attention affect the way we learn, but the way we interact with those around us.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone, only to find them asking questions you already answered a minute ago? This may simply be forgetfulness but is often a sign that they weren’t really listening. Have you ever opened up to someone and they responded by offering solutions to fix the way you’re feeling? “Break up with him,” or “try exercising more,” or the good ole, “you’re just too young to understand.” Your reaction was probably not that of relief, but that your feelings were pushed aside in favor of moving past the discomfort of exposing your vulnerability. Have you listened to someone’s argument on a hot topic and formulated a good counter argument before they finished? Have you ever waited for someone to finish speaking so you could tell an entertaining story? These are all symptoms of a major problem that isolates us from the possibility to grow through shared experiences: the unwillingness to give someone our full attention.

Professional interviewer Celeste
Headlee gave an insightful TEDx Talk titled, “10 Ways to have a Better Conversation,” in which she nailed the importance of listening as the neglected half of conversation. When we are truly listening to someone, our responses will not come off as stupid or offensive because at the very least, we can show that we understood their point completely, even if we disagree with it.

I have repeatedly heard the message in the media that we are more polarized and divided than ever before. It seems like despite having access to vast amounts of information and several alleyways of communication, we have trouble finding common ground. I firmly believe that a lack of conversational competence is to blame for this. It’s easier than ever to find out which causes you support or what ideological group you belong to, but rather than listening to the opinions of another individual, we hide behind the arguments experts have already built for us. We box ourselves out of a conversation by assuming we already know what is right and defend the positions we’ve already made up our minds about.

Being open-minded is not as easy as it sounds and it’s an overused word. If you really want to learn more about politics, culture or the world at large, pay attention to the individual. What has this person experienced that I haven’t? What is the world like to them? No matter what positions we’ve taken, we all have our humanity in common. We all have a desire to be understood and to have meaningful relationships. We all have our preferences and reasons behind them and we’re all dying to share our own story. By respecting each other’s differences and believing we have something to gain from listening to their perspective, we succeed in having an open mind.

We have all been guilty of not listening and we all have plenty of room for improvement in our conversational habits. When you have a conversation with someone, the most fundamental thing you can do is show genuine interest in what they’re saying. You shouldn’t be checking your phone, or watching the game or thinking about something else. Instead, be present and attentive to decide whether you want to open yourself up to this person and whether you want to hear what they think. If you aren’t interested in what someone has to say, there’s not much point in having a conversation. If you’re sticking around so you can vent about your problems to someone who’s venting about their problems, that’s not a conversation, that’s a sounding board.

When we listen to one another, we find ourselves engaged. We find new tangents and topics to delve into that we never intended to reach. We come to find that many of us share the same feelings despite different experiences. Setting aside judgement in favor of understanding allows us to make that human connection we so desperately crave.

Show an interest in who’s in front of you and I promise you’ll find that there is much left to learn about life and even more to talk about.