Deep listening techniques can help improve your communication skills and understanding of yourself and those around you. This can have positive knock-on effects.
Having tough conversations can make listening difficult, even though listening is considered a soft skill – something we do every day without a second thought. However, there are many different types of listening, one of the most useful for these difficult conversations is deep listening.
This practice encourages listening without trying to respond, judge, or offer solutions. The goal is simply to understand. It may sound like a simple solution, but it can be hard to do, especially when you’re sure you’re right.
What is Deep Listening?
Listening starts with hearing what others are saying correctly. When a message is sent, a corresponding message is received. If all you need to do is send information, that’s enough, however, this isn’t really “good” or “active” listening. Good listening makes others feel heard, while active listening is the practice of paraphrasing what you think you are hearing and gently asking for more information when the meaning is not clear. Deep listening is the act of connecting with and learning from someone during a conversation by combining good and active listening habits.
It is learning to be fully focused and present with the other person as they tell you their thoughts, hearing more than just the words the speaker is saying, and getting a sense of what they need or feel. It isn’t time to be the problem solver unless they specifically ask for help, advice, or guidance. Just listen, even though that’s not always easy.
Fundamentally, people wish to be heard and to feel that their opinions are important. They seek out empathy and respect. Listening not only shows that we understand what’s being said, but also that we value and respect them as human beings. Your aim as interlocutors is to connect and build trust, more so than it is to convince one another or defend your opinions. Follow our steps to help you affirm and support others and possibly transform your relationships.
Benefits of Deep Listening
Deep listening doesn’t need to be used only for conflict resolution, so reach out to your loved ones. Even if you can’t be with each other physically, a text or phone call can still meet our needs for connection. When you talk, focus on listening rather than just talking. Deep listening moves the conversation to let you know more than what the person is saying, helping you by reading between the lines.
We all want to be seen and heard with the eyes and ears of compassion. Instead of waiting for someone to give you this gift, give it to someone else.
While it maybe sounds like you’ll just be sitting doing nothing, it takes a lot of focus and energy to deep listening. But deep listening can lead to many positive outcomes, here are some examples of what you can expect:
- More profound relationships: deep listening is the easiest way to show a person that you care and is essential for enriching your relationships. Your partner will recognize that you are listening from a place of love and kindness, not just to get information.
- Being kinder to yourself: learning to have compassion and patience with yourself in the face of negative self-talk will strengthen and deepen your understanding of where these thoughts come from and why they come up at certain moments. Understanding yourself is the first step of the healing process.
- Gaining a new perspective: When we listen we can connect with the world around us instead of focusing on ourselves, we’re more open to new points of view, perspectives, and insights. We build far stronger connections on the foundations of trust and respect rather than agreement.
Setting the Scene
Considering the time your conversation partner has spent thinking about what it is they are telling you, you should at least listen with your whole heart and mind from start to finish out of respect for their openness. The key to focusing fully on the content of their words is to reduce distractions.
- Eye contact shows that you are interested in what your conversation partner is saying, but you don’t have to stare straight into your conversation partner’s soul, and it might not even be necessary for deep listening. To deep listen well, you should simply try to limit visual stimuli that could distract from the listening experience.
Try to limit the amount of ambient noise around you if possible. Please ensure that your cell phone is on silent, your computer is put away, and that there are no other distractions that could take away from the experience.
Find a comfortable place to sit, lie down, or stand. It may be helpful to have a drink or some tea or chocolate available to help you relax. Deep listening only works if the person you are listening to feels they can speak from the heart, and people can only do that if they feel safe enough to be vulnerable. Your conversation partner needs to know they won’t be punished or humiliated for what they are saying.
Pay attention. The most powerful way to connect is to listen, and the most important thing we can give each other is our attention. When people are talking, there is no need to do anything but listen to what they have to say. It’s your responsibility to stop your mind from drifting away from the conversation and being present. This allows your partner to feel appreciated and understood.
- Don’t interrupt or try to share similar experiences, especially if someone is sharing something that hurts them. Deep listening is not a dialogue, and you shouldn’t respond to your conversation partner’s experiences by sharing your thoughts and feelings. In fact, doing this can actually have the adverse effect of isolating your partner even more from you. A loving silence has more power to heal than words.
- Try to understand what your conversation partner is trying to convey to you. You’re not listening to critique, object, or convince. Even if you disagree with what they said, you can still show them respect by acknowledging and paying attention to what they are feeling. You could even try practicing intellectual humility before deep listening to help with this particular point.
- Try to occasionally nod, smile, or give another sign of recognition to your conversation partner. It is important to show your understanding. These cues may seem insignificant, but they have a tremendous impact on the conversation by showing your interest, understanding, and involvement. Your conversation partner will know you are following and comprehending what they are trying to get across.
- Don’t offer advice if not asked for. Some people like to consider others’ opinions and ideas about their beliefs and situations, but for most this can be a very touchy area. Wait for your partner to ask for advice or opinions before bringing them to the table. Remember, this is not a dialogue, your main purpose is to listen.
Deep Listening Requires Asking Questions
Of course, listening alone is not enough. You can and should ask questions when provided the opportunity to do so. In deep listening, try to respond by repeating what you’ve heard to make sure you understand, by asking your conversation partner to tell you more about what they just said, or by asking open-ended questions. Here are a few example questions to help you get started :
- Could you elaborate on that point?
- How did you feel about that?
- What about that worries you?
- What else is on your mind?
- What do you hope people understand about what you are going through?
Asking for clarification is equally important as asking for more information. To check in with your conversation partner that you are on the same page, you can use some clarification questions:
- Did I understand that right?
- Am I following you?
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