Do you have a best friend? I’ve known mine since we were in middle school. We’re two independent, intelligent, hipster women in their 60s raised in LA. You’d think we would have learned the fine art of listening to each other, but spending five days together last month showed us that communication is complicated, even with someone you’ve known for a lifetime.
Listening isn’t easy. It’s not a skill that is highly rewarded in our culture. We’re taught to speak up, stand out, rise up and be heard, but there is no prize for quieting down and listening.
Listening changes our reality. We each have a unique inner map of how the world works. Listening to another person’s understanding can challenge our point of view, and that can be difficult, too.
Good listening creates safety. Without it, our conversations are incomplete. And that’s what happened between me and my bestie. We defended our positions when conflict showed up. It wasn’t until we were able to really listen to each other that we felt safe enough to share our hearts and come to an understanding.
Here are three simple tools you can use to become a better listener:
Better Listening Tool #1: Mirroring
Mirroring will help you avoid shifting the conversation to what you think. Simply repeat what someone says to you to reflect back their words.
For example, you ask a friend what they think about summer in the desert. They respond, “I have asthma, and the high heat makes it hard for me to breathe when it’s this hot.” You mirror, “Ah, so high heat makes it hard for you to breathe. Did I get that right?” Let them respond. Then ask, “Is there something else you’d like to add about that?” Listen again.
Better Listening Tool #2: Validating
Validating affirms you understand the logic behind what the speaker said. You don’t have to agree, but it is important that you affirm that their logic makes sense. You say, “That makes sense to me because you have asthma.”
Better Listening Tool #3: Empathizing
Empathizing makes the speaker feel safe. It tells the speaker that you are sensitive to their feelings. You say, “I imagine you might be feeling a little claustrophobic right now (or insert another emotion that makes sense to you). Is that right?” Then listen for the speaker’s reply.
The art of better listening can be rewarding for both the speaker and the listener. Ask a friend to play along and use these scripts. These tools can feel awkward at first, but give them a try. You’ll notice the quality of your conversations improve instantly.
Laya Raznick is a certified health coach and the resident health coach for NBC Palm Springs. She is also the creator of Healthy Hearts, Live Online Exercise for Seniors and can be reached at [email protected] For more information, visit www.LayaRaznick.com/healthyhearts.