You can search for and easily find techniques for how to listen well. Here, I want to focus on how a good listener thinks, rather than what they do.
First thing that must be said: You will be a better listener to others if you become good at listening to yourself.
There are two kinds of listening: internal and external. External listening is what we often focus on—listening to other people and things outside of you. But internal listening is very important: it’s the ability to listen to yourself. To be in tune with your mind and body.
It’s hard to listen to two different things at the same time, don’t you think? We often try to listen to another person, but end up listening to ourselves instead–that’s why there’s so much interrupting and arguing sometimes. We feel what’s going on around us, but we then often switch the focus to how it makes us feel. And it is very important to listen to yourself… but when you don’t know how to listen effectively to yourself, it takes you a whole lot of conscious energy and you tend to always have to shut out the world to think; that usually means you aren’t really listening to others.
Somebody once defined maturity to me as “how well you know yourself.” Awesome definition. If you understand yourself and how things make you feel, you will be much steadier, more in control, and better able to adapt yourself to a situation.
The starting point for good listening is this: it’s not all about you. But that can feel like a contradiction, because ultimately it is all about you. You’re the only person living your life, right?
The key is to get so good at listening to yourself that eventually it becomes second nature, the way you breathe… without consciously thinking about it. Then, once you develop healthy patterns of self-listening, you will be able to notice how things impact you, but not let them break your listening to others. You can then strike the balance… and also know when you are out of balance and need to ask for a moment away to get right. Because even the best self-listeners can often get overwhelmed with the millions of different stimuli out there at any given second.
This does not come right away, but it is easier than it might seem to learn. As we grow, we learn to identify more quickly when we are hungry or when we need to sleep, for example. It’s just a question of paying attention. Taking time out to meditate can help to do this. That’s one of the things meant by “stop and smell the roses.”
A personal note: I used to be a terrible listener, both to myself and to others. I used to feel as though if I wasn’t doing something active or preparing to do something active, I was wasting time. I was ok sitting still… as long as I had a book in my hand, a computer in front of me, or somebody that I could talk to. But the idea of stopping and listening to myself seemed useless; why? I am my own self, what do I need to stop and think about?
What I eventually found out was that so many of us don’t know the half of how we are affected by things. For example, when one gets angry, one will say “I’m angry,” but even if they know what made them angry, often they don’t realize a very key, crucial piece to the puzzle:
You get hurt before you get angry. Anger is merely the response to the hurt.
You must take some time to examine the truth about how you feel, and figure out what is out of balance. That’s not a quick 2-minute exercise. Saying, “I’m angry” or “I’m upset” is not good enough. Get deep with yourself. Face the hurt. Meditate on the unmet expectations and the unsatisfied desires. Then, ask yourself, “where do these desires and expectations come from?” and you will find that you have needs that are more important than you ever were aware.
You’ll find patterns: for example, both that time when your boss didn’t trust you and the time when your friend made a bad assumption about you lead back to the same place: a need to be understood and validated. Or the fact that you’re restless at bedtime on certain nights; if you’re paying attention, you’ll stop eating big dinners, for example, because you will see how lots of food eaten late negatively affects you.
Then, once you know your own core needs better, you’ll be able to see the pathway to meeting them immediately, almost every single time. There will always be things that throw you off sometimes – and at those moments, you will know not to hurry up and fix it, but rather, to excuse yourself and give yourself time to think things through – in other words, do more listening to yourself.
And now that you are able to deal with yourself effectively, you can pretty much fully turn your attention towards others.