How to Practice the Fine Art of Listening

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“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

The ability to listen well is a skill often arrested by addiction.

I’ll speak for myself here, although I’m pretty sure my lack of social graces while in the throes of alcoholism wasn’t much different from anyone else’s. Back then, I didn’t care about the sound of anyone’s voice but my own.

When drinking, I waxed philosophical with deep conversations broken by an occasional slurry “ya know what I mean?” I only took a breath when I paused to slurp from my glass, dixie cup, can or bottle.

At that point it was your turn to take me hostage with your jib-jabbering. The exchanges between us were meaningless but did serve to bolster our egos.

What a miserable way to co-exist!

Sobriety doesn’t make you a rousing conversationalist instantly

Listening, like the rest of the skills most teenagers and young adults learn as they mature, is stunted by alcohol and drugs. For example, I had a 15-year span of hard drinking, from the time I was 15 until I was 30. So in addition to stumbling through the minefield of early recovery, I had to re-learn all the stuff that alcohol drowned.

Thankfully, I’m a quick learner.

Unfortunately, not every sober newcomer has a mentor who models social skills. Believe me, there are plenty of folks out there with decades of recovery who remain poor listeners. They still thrive on the syllables of their own boasting.

For that matter, there are plenty of non-recovery people doing the same.

Learning the art of deep listening creates vibrant new experiences

Here are some listening tips I’ve picked up through years of observing and practicing. I’m convinced that all relationships great and small would benefit from more listening, in fact, the world would be transformed!

  • * Look at your conversation mate’s mouth instead of her eyes. You’ll be able to concentrate more on what she’s saying plus you’ll have the added benefit of avoiding direct eye contact which intimidates many people.
  • * If you’re having a one-on-one in a crowded room, look down and tilt an ear slightly up, then lean in a bit. This adjustment avoids the temptation to look around the room or become distracted by other conversations.
  • * If seated at a table, put on elbow on the table and rest your chin on your fist or open palm. Again, lean in and let yourself fall into conversation captivation.
  • * You can also do the above when standing. Simply place your fingers on your chin while your elbow rests on your other folded arm. You’ll look so engaged–and you will be with a little practice!
  • * Ask questions. The best communicators don’t interject their own stories unless they have an experience with the topic. Even then they dodge any opportunity to play the one-up game. Questions indicate a deeper connection.
  • * Give physical cues like a slight tilt of your head, a nod, smile of recognition or even touching the other person’s hand or shoulder.

It’s okay if you’re uncomfortable at first–that’s natural. I’ll let you in on a secret. I really, really don’t like social functions where you stand around blah-blah’ing with a bunch of people who are rotten listeners. I know I’m in for 60+ minutes of inanity.

But, give me 60 minutes of intimate conversation with someone who asks questions and practices at least one or two of these tips and I’m in heaven!

Unless you want to be Jeremiah Johnson living out in the woods, you have to talk with people. Why not make it a mutually satisfying adventure? Let me know how it goes!

I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below and if you liked this post, please share it with your social media connections. Thanks so much!

Love and hugs to you!

Photo courtesy of jppi

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4 Comments

  1. Love this one, Beth. Listening is so important and your tips are good ones to remember. I’m with you, I would much rather talk to someone one on one than be in a crowd making all the small talk. Thanks for this great reminder!

  2. Lynne says:

    Listening is a necessary skill one has to learn and practice.

    • Beth says:

      You are so right, Lynne. I find that looking into a speaker’s eyes provides the concentration I need to keep MY mouth shut and listen. Thanks for your comment!

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