Hearing, But Are We Listening?


The other day, I was listening to a TED Talk (about half my conversations begin this way) and was inspired by Celeste Headlee, the author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter. Although this may sound like a book that helps navigate break-up conversations with significant others (it's really not), I was most struck by her tips on listening.

Listening is one of the most precious, yet overlooked gifts we can give to one another. By simply listening, we express our support in the strongest way possible. We show someone that they are valued and that what they have to say is important. However, we so often hear what others have to say, without truly listening.

Listening is a skill that is developed. In the T1D community, it is especially important for us to grow our listening skills. Why? Because we can relate to one another in ways that not many people can. Opening up is difficult and by listening to others with T1D, we provide them with an irreplaceable source of support. Here are four of Headlee's tips to help us do just that: 

1. Don't multitask.

During freshman orientation in college, one of our orientation aides told us the best thing we can do to support our hall mates is to put everything down when they come to us with their burdens. It's true...drop everything. EVERYTHING.

2. Ask open-ended questions.

We need to enter conversations with a mindset of trying to learn as much as possible from the other person. For this, Headlee suggests asking open-ended questions (who, what, when, where, why), similar to reporters. Guy Raz, who hosts the TED Radio Hour podcast also does an excellent job asking thought-provoking questions that allow for maximal learning. 

3. Let thoughts come, and then let them go. 

It is natural to have thoughts that have nothing to do with your conversation. "What will I have for dinner tonight?" "Man, I can't wait for The Bachelor finale." Listening is an exercise in mindfulness. It takes effort to stay focused on one thing for extended periods of time...including people! When distracting thoughts enter, we can acknowledge that they are there without passing self-judgement, and then let them go. 

4. Let the conversation be about THEM.

It's easy to try to identify with someone else by sharing our own experiences. This can be helpful (especially in the weird situations T1D can put us in!), but it can also steer the focus away from the person who is trying to open up. Even if we have similar experiences, it's important that we never equate someone's hardships with our own. If we do share, acknowledging the differences helps the other person realize we are listening while also helping that person know they are not alone in what they are experiencing.

That's all for now! As always, thanks for reading! Now tell me...do you have any tips for effective listening? What makes you feel listened to?