Life, Universe, Writing

Working On Becoming a Better Listener

I’m learning to accept the less-than-ideal aspects of myself. One of them is that I have difficulty having conversations.

There are two aspects to this: I struggle with making eye contact, and I have to work hard to listen.

This has nothing to do with the other person being interesting. This is due to my desire to either interject with something interesting or to fill awkward silence.

I’m working on becoming a better listener.

To be clear, I’m not holding the conversation hostage; I simply want to listen better, pay more attention, and stay involved for a longer period of time.

In January, I discovered a Julia Cameron book that helped me get started on my listening journey:

Courtesy Bookshop.org

I’ve learned about active listening, which is more about being engaged with what you’re listening to rather than just nodding along and saying “uh-huh.”

It keeps you front and center in the conversation, which might help bring someone to their senses if they make the conversation all about themselves.

Because, in my opinion, no one wants to be a conversation hog. I just don’t think we were given the proper tools. Again, this is something that could’ve been taught in high school BEFORE geometry. But I digress…

Do you have difficulty listening in conversations?

How to Become a Better Listener

How to Avoid Awkward Silence

49 thoughts on “Working On Becoming a Better Listener”

  1. I’m a good listener. I was raised by parents who insisted on it. Then I took a class in college that was all about how to do it better, focusing on skills not abstract theory. I agree that it’s a life skill to know how to be an active listener. It could/should be taught in high school.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love that you took a college class about it! You’re really good at asking questions in your blog posts. In fact, I’ve learned how to do that from reading your (and others’) blogs. 🙂

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  2. I’ve always been a good listener, which my mother first noticed when I was sitting in our kitchen with the phone to my ear. I think asking the right questions is a sign of someone who is listening and processing what you say. But sometimes the most important part is not saying anything, especially if the person you are talking with is going through difficulties. Often, people don’t want advice, just empathy.

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      1. I read or heard somewhere about this being a mars-venus sort of thing, that men think when we share we want them to fix it or advise us how to fix it when really all we women want is to vent and have that other person just LISTEN.
        Listening, especially to my children and those I love and that I know love me, is something I have tried to cultivate in myself for the past several years. It was probably inspired by something I read similar to the sources you have noted here. I’m still working on it, especially with my BFF who just wants to start with advice even if I haven’t asked for it and some of my old friends who I feel mainly repeat themselves, especially their gripes, and go around in circles before they get to the gist of what they want from me (especially when they’ve already told me that something is coming for which they want a response from me.) In both cases I find myself (rudely in my opinion) butting into their torrent of words which, especially if I have time, I am consciously trying to stop myself from doing. This happens most often in phone conversations so of course neither party gets physical cues they can read in those situations.

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      2. I just read a book that mentioned something about listening to the advice you offer to others since it is often the advice you need to heed yourself. So I wrote all of the advice I’d been giving down, and holy crap, it was spot on. I need to shut the hell up. 😉

        It’s not easy to improve listening skills. It takes time, but the fact that we desire to learn is a step in the right direction.

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  3. I think active listening would be a great class for high school students to have to take! Definitely more useful than my algebra 2 skills (though I enjoyed algebra I have never found the need to divide polynomials by binomials since leaving high school). I try to be a good listener but I don’t think I really am.

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  4. I haven’t read that Julia Cameron book yet. I started “Vein of Gold” and didn’t stick with it. I need to dust it off and start again. Also, I have a bad habit of getting excited in conversations and interupting.

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    1. I have Vein of Gold on my TBR list. I actually got her most recent book, Seeking Wisdom, on a whim at the bookstore, but I’m not feeling it right now. So I’m saving it for a time when I hope to be in the right place for it.

      I am exactly like you, excited. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been primarily cooped up in the house for two years and excited to see other people? LOL

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  5. This is a good topic. Like you, I struggle with eye contact. I don’t know if it’s a spectrum thing or an anxiety thing, but it’s a thing, especially if I become conscious of the fact that I’m struggling with eye contact. And that can make it hard to listen.

    As an instructional coach and teacher, I’ve had to learn how to listen deeply. The chatter in my own head is so constant and sometimes loud, but it is a skill that even I have been able to cultivate. As for teaching it in school, listening skills are part of English Language Arts standards (which include reading, writing, speaking, and listening). Because those standards are not included in high-stakes assessments, the teaching of them is probably pretty spotty (that’s how it is in the systems I’ve been in). But they’re there. I don’t give them as much time as I’d like to when I’m teaching, but I do address them. I’m sure others do, too.

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    1. I, too, questioned whether it was a spectrum issue. When I can’t make eye contact, I feel quite self-conscious, which makes it difficult for me to focus on the conversation.

      Yes to the chatter inside my head! Learning to meditate has helped me learn to calm the chatter a little, but it’s a process. Listening is difficult when you lack adequate executive functioning abilities, as is the case with ADHD. I wish I’d known all of this 30 years ago, but alas…

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  6. I like to think I’m a good listener. I guess that definition depends on who I’m listening to though. And yes, listening is something that should definitely be taught – far more valuable than just about any math class I ever came close to failing.

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    1. That’s another excellent point. If I’m listening to someone who isn’t giving me a chance to speak, I tune them out.

      I feel that high school classes, like college courses, should be chosen. But that’s a completely separate post. 🙂

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  7. I would like to think I’m a good listener although I know I could do a lot better. I listen to try and understand what the person is saying and telling me, but I’m also thinking of what I’m going to say in return. I’m also uncomfortable with silence in conversations, though I don’t like idle chit chat and too much talking sometimes makes my head spin. Basically, it’s awkward being an INFJ. 😉

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  8. This is such a good skill to work on! It would definitely be tricky if eye contact is uncomfortable, though, and I would be interested to know if you come across ways that help you feel more engaged even while not maintaining direct eye contact.

    I feel like I am a decent listener, but sometimes I am TOO active, and people think I’m trying to interject, when really I am just making a noise that means, “Yeah!” or “I agree!” or “Tell me more!” or whatever.

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    1. I have such a hard time making eye contact! It makes me feel better to know that others are going through the same thing. I usually tell the other person that I’m not very good at it and that they shouldn’t take it personally.

      Me too! It’s my way of saying, “I’m interested! I swear!” 🙂

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      1. I feel like I am lucky in that eye contact isn’t difficult/uncomfortable, but I am hyper aware of it, and always wondering, Am I making too much or too little eye contact? Am I appearing disinterested or overly interested? So I guess it is uncomfortable 😂 It’s a lot of work!

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  9. You raise a very good point – that listening skills should be taught in high school. Great idea. You are definitely on to something there. Do you have any pull at high school educators? I did love math in high school, but I do agree that I haven’t really USED it.

    I think I am a good listener, but I’m definitely a much better talker.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think it’s great that you’re working on that! I love when people recognize something in themselves that they want to improve and then they improve it. Good for you!

    I am endlessly fascinated by people so I do think I’m a good listener, and I’m a person who asks 10000000 questions during a conversation. I just think people are so interesting!

    My MIL is probably the worst listener I have ever encountered, she is a person who doesn’t pay any attention to what anyone else says, but just talks. I have had to shift my perspective with her so as to not have hurt feelings. At this point, there’s no point, you know what I mean?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being fascinated by people– YES! That is such a great perspective, Nicole.

      That’s also my MIL. I try to imagine how someone gets that way. Were they never listened to when they were younger? Or did they simply never learn how to hold a conversation?

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      1. I actually think you might be onto something re: never listened to when they were young. That could have been the case for my MIL! Well, she’s 80, so there’s no changing now. I’ve just kind of stopped trying to converse and I just let her talk 🙂

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  11. What a great topic to study! You asked if we had difficulty listening in conversations…. I don’t think I do but also? I have no idea if that makes me a good listener. But I hope I’m a good listener.

    I know I love a good conversation and love hearing new ideas, new concepts, new viewpoints… thinking about them and discussing with a lot of back n forth. Lately I’ve noticed how much I miss deep conversations. So I’ve been seeking out the interesting people and trying to make space for those conversations that used to just spontaneously happen when I was younger. Now I will make sure I also try to actively listen!

    I do think this should be taught in school (along with empathy). Also I’d love a course on how to converse over texts bc I’m in some group texts with amazing, awesome people and my text game is so bad. Text conversations are like a whole other skill set! But an important one these days. Does your new book have any tips?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel that the fact that you questioned your listening abilities indicates that you are an excellent listener. The fact that you listen to my podcasts every week definitely demonstrates that you are a good listener. LMAO

      Maddie, I miss deep conversations as well! I just had a serious conversation with a friend, and even though she was sharing her heart and was sad, I felt so privileged to be in this place with her. I’d missed having these one-on-one conversations with other people, and I hadn’t realized how much until it occurred.

      So much that should be taught in school isn’t. Empathy, compassion, learning to set boundaries, and learning to be a friend are all important skills to develop. I wish there were a way to include these kind of programs into schools. They are as essential as reading and writing.

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  12. What a great post. I think most of us have the issue with (or at least me) listening and thinking of how my response is going to be, instead of just listening.

    This would have been a great subject in school and as you said could be used more than some other senseless classes.

    I have a good friend who loves to say: We’re given two ears and one mouth for reason, we should listen more than talk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an excellent point. Maybe it’s my fear of seeming silly, so I plan out what I’m going to say ahead of time, that gets in the way? Of course, it all depends on who I’m speaking with.

      That is a fantastic quote. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for bringing this up: all of us could stand to focus more on listening, on focusing on what is being said (and then even hear what isn’t being said).

    I think the world would be a better place if we all listened some more, and not just waited (most of the time impatiently 🙂 ) for our turn to speak… Imagine how much wiser we’d be 🙂

    I also think that recognizing that we want to focus on active listening is already winning half the battle, so woohoo!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I know that sometimes I’m not a good listener and it’s something I’m actively working on. Part of it is probably because I’m not very social in the first place and part of it is because I long for meaningful conversations but it’s all a poor excuse. I NEED to do better. Thanks for the reminder!!

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