I've always been told I'm a good listener. I enjoy listening to people's stories - stories of triumph, joy, sadness or pain. Admittedly, sometimes I hear more than I need to know or even want to know, but it's par for the course. By listening, I learn so much about human nature and the world around me.
I once heard a speaker talking about the difference between hearing and listening and I found it rather fascinating. It is easy to hear what someone says without really listening to what they have to say. Listening requires active participation - hearing doesn't. You can hear just by virtue of the fact that you have working ears. Listening involves paying attention to words, inflections and tone, as well as reading between the lines to find emotion, context, motive, what is said, and even what is not said. Listening is discovering what is really being said.
Listening requires a genuine desire and interest in what is being said and in the person talking. It requires a willingness to make a meaningful connection with a speaker and their message, and go along on a journey with them. Effective listening will involve keeping an open mind and reserving your judgement, focusing on the message, being engaged in the conversation, and avoiding the urge to be defensive (even if you feel attacked). Yes, to really listen, you need to shut up.
Have you ever been around someone who just seems to love the sound of their own voice and found it difficult to get a word in edgewise? Many of us have at some point. Those situations might have left us wanting to find an excuse just to get away because we felt we were not being recognized - our thoughts were not needed, wanted, or important enough to the other person.
Each one of us wants to feel acknowledged - and listening is a good way to make people feel acknowledged. Everyone wants to feel like they're being heard - listened to. By communicating through the simple act of listening that whatever the other person has to say is important to you, you communicate that the other person is important to you. This creates a shared bond that we all crave and does wonders for all kinds of relationships.
Make someone feel important today. You'll be glad you did.