“Like the herd animals we are, we sniff warily at the strange one among us.” ~ Loren Eisenley
Stay with me; I’m going somewhere thoughtful here.
A dog lover, they’ve been part of my life for decades. So naturally, I was drawn to a recent article titled, “Why Do Dogs Sniff Each Other’s Butts? It’s More Complicated Than You Might Imagine.” Turns out, it’s all about one canine literally sniffing out important information about the other; its gender, emotional state, diet, and more. It’s like communicating with chemicals. As part of its olfactory system, dogs nerves direct the chemical information it detects directly to the brain so there’s no interference from other odors. Keep this “no interference” in mind.
Which brings me to the actual focus for this post. As humans, we also process information by:
- Being quiet inside and really listening as a way of being aware of our own feelings as well as the feelings of others and;
- Being aware of habitual negative patterns of thought, behavior and communication and then making positive choices to better serve ourselves and others.
When it comes to effective, meaningful communication, there is probably not a more important skill than listening. Not just hearing but truly listening. Listening is challenging for many people because we are often:
- Focused on the physical appearance, social status, or the clothing of the person speaking. Maybe even judging them.
- Planning on what you have to do once the conversation has ended.
- Devising a solution while the other person is sharing a problem.
Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear. It’s what many people do. Listening requires more than that: it requires focus. Just as canines use their acute sense of smell to enhance communication, we can further develop our skill by listening with our eyes and our heart. Think Golden Rule: How do you want to be listened to?
Most of us believe we’re good listeners. If you want to become an even better listener, consider these ideas:
- Avoid letting the speaker know how you handled a similar situation. Unless they specifically ask for advice, assume they simply need to talk it out.
- Listen without interrupting. Often, people want to interject their own thoughts. (Yes, we know we do.) Does your body acknowledge that you are listening? Use smiles, nods, and expressions of understanding to communicate to the speaker that you are listening. It is important for them to know their words are respected.
- Want to listen. This is unique. You must have an intent to listen. Sometimes you don’t want to listen. At other times, your actions may indicate that you don’t want to listen when you really do. And at still other times, you may be unaware that you don’t want to listen. We can be as good a listener as we want.