Good listeners are so rare. More of us would be good listeners if it wasn’t for our tendencies to help more actively. We tend to offer advice, show the way, or solve the issue, all of which keeps us from becoming good, active listeners.
Why are we so quick to propose a solution? What is it about patiently listening that makes us so uncomfortable? Stumped? Here, I’ll propose a few theories… just to help you out.
1. We are unaccustomed to silence, alone or in the company of others. There’s only one way around this: embrace the silence. Try using the commute to work or taking a short walk during your day to practice silence. You may want to reach for your phone or iPod at first, but resist the urge and enjoy the silence. Eventually, you’ll see that silent moments during a conversation allow you to absorb the information, gather your thoughts, and emotionally support the other person.
2. We like to play hero and come to the rescue. We’re always ready with our toolkit of answers when someone close to us is in need. We tend to forget that we don’t need to solve the problem. We just need to facilitate the process for the person to find it within him/herself. Instead of offering a number of solutions, ask questions such as, “Why do you think you feel that way?” and “What do you think you can do on your own and what do you think you’ll need some help with?” Instead of being Superman, try being a shrink.
3. We look for efficiency and effectiveness in our relationships. We oversimplify personalities and use archetypes to keep them organized. We generally like predictability, and when someone surprises us, we quickly label them as an anomaly. Here’s the punchline: Good listeners enable change, self-discovery, and growth. They overlook the number of times a person considered option A and then overlook that the person chose option B. Most importantly, good listeners know that growth is a circular process, which begins and ends with talking. And thus, they’re happy to lend a ear or two whenever they can.