Don't wait for your turn to speak. Practice active listening instead.

Sometimes, I Just Need to STFU and Listen

Ask my partner, and she’ll tell you I’m a selective listener. If I could argue, I would…but she’s not entirely wrong. 

It’s not that I don’t listen; I’m just easily distracted – if the hockey game is on, I’m scrolling social media, or I’m reading a blog post, there’s a good chance my focus is split 50/50. 

Which isn’t okay. 

The result of my inattentiveness is a breakdown in communication, which leaves her feeling less important than whatever she’s competing with for my attention. And lately, when I am listening, I’m just waiting to speak more than anything else. 

So, I often respond from a place of impulse and emotion without considering whether or not she wants to hear my opinions or so-called solutions.  

That’s where active listening comes in; giving your full attention to somebody when they’re speaking and not just waiting for your turn to talk. It involves: 

  • paying attention to the entire message being communicated—this means listening to both body language AND verbal language;

  • showing your interest by engaging in the conversation—use your own body language to express enthusiasm, like looking directly at the speaker, nodding in agreement, and smiling; and

  • concentrating on exactly what’s being said and deferring judgement—repeat important information (mentally or aloud) to show you’re listening, and remember to keep your opinions neutral throughout the conversation.
Photo by Marco Bianchetti

Do you want a shoulder or a solution?

Another part of active listening is providing feedback. 

After allowing the speaker to finish their thoughts, don’t rush to give your rebuttal. Reflect on what’s been said, and make sure you fully understand what’s been communicated. 

And if you’re not sure about something, don’t accept ignorance; ask questions and clarify the message.  

☝ This is where I can do better. 

Not just with my partner, but with friends and those in my professional network, too.

Within the last few weeks, I’ve managed to offend at least two people (that I know of) by hurrying to give my opinion – when really all they wanted was a friendly ear. 

Remember, your advice is only valuable when it’s sought out. In order words, don’t peddle your perspective until it’s asked for. 

Which brings us back to The Knowledge Project podcast and the episode I mentioned in my last post with neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett. 

About three-quarters of the way through the interview, when discussing emotions, Lisa shares a communication method she employs when talking to her distressed teenage daughter. 

Right away, Lisa will ask her daughter if she’s looking for a solution or a shoulder [to cry on]. This eliminates confusion and helps Lisa understand exactly what’s expected of her at the end of the exchange. 

It creates clarity. 

Interestingly, my partner brought up something similar the other week. She read an article presenting the same concept in a different way: determining whether the speaker wants a hug or a hand. 

Either way, the idea is to build context around the conversation through active listening, which in turn, allows you to offer valued feedback.  

In my case, it reduces the chance of foot-in-mouth syndrome – at least, I think that’s why she brought it up? 🤔

Anyway, the next time somebody comes to you looking for a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, offer it genuinely and reserve all judgement. 

  • Set the ego aside and don’t jump to conclusions in a conversation—and don’t assume you know what somebody wants to hear either.

  • Check your emotions and respond from a place of awareness—wait until you know all the facts to give your opinion, and only offer your input if it’s asked for; otherwise, stay in your lane.
  • Be authentic with your interactions and be present in the moment—rather than splitting your attention and trying to multitask (like I do), fully engage yourself in the conversation instead. 

Strong relationships (in all their varying forms) are built on a foundation of trust and understanding. That begins with clear communication. 

We get so focused on talking; sometimes, we forget about listening. 

So, really, today’s post is my reminder to just need to shut the f*** up and listen, actively. 

Thanks for reading.

The Diary of Davis Newsletter.
Photo by Aaron Burden

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