If I were to ask you what matters most to you, what would you say? Would it be your family or friends? Or perhaps something about your job? According to the Pew Research Center, that’s exactly how you’d respond (Silver, et. al., 2021). In fact, over a third of the people researched list family or children as their top indicator of giving meaning to their life. And yet… our actions don’t always match up with our words.
Although this video is exaggerated, it shows how frustrating it can be to talk to someone who really isn’t paying attention. Even though James tries to reassure his friend that he’s listening, his behavior—the non-verbal communication—is saying the exact opposite.
Listening with Love
So, how do we listen with love, even when we don’t want to? We can start by acknowledging this is a weakness we have, and want to improve. Unless we can accept this, why would we try to change in the first place? We can fortify this effort by physically and psychologically attending the conversations we have with others.
Physical attending is relatively easy! According to Dr. Gerald Egan (2013), you can effectively communicate an interest in what someone else is saying by remembering the acronym SOLER:
- S: Sitting squarely says “I’m here with you, I’m available to you.” Turning your body away from another person while you talk to him or her can lessen your degree of contact with that person.
- O: Adopt an open posture. Crossed arms and/or crossed legs can be a sign of lessened involvement with or availability to others.
- L: It is possible to lean in towards [someone]. It says, “I’m with you, I’m interested in you and what you have to say.” Leaning back can suggest the opposite.
- E: Maintain good eye contact. It’s another way of saying, “I’m interested, I’m with you.” Remember this is not the same as staring. You will need to look away every so often, in order not to stare, but monitor the amount you look away.
- R: Be relaxed or natural. If you are fidgeting nervously it will distract the [other person].
Unfortunately, psychological attending is where most of us struggle. Given the conveniences of video calls, fast food, etc., it’s no surprise we try to mentally multitask too—even though research is showing we’re actually terrible at it (Bellur, et. al., 2015).
One way we can strengthen our mental stamina to pay attention is to practice several minutes of uninterrupted mindfulness each day. There are many secondary gains which come with mindfulness, and our ability to be mentally present is just one of them!
Finally, if you’re still feeling disinterested or distracted when listening to those you love, use minimal encouragers! Not only is this easy, it shows your engagement in the conversation. Some examples include, “oh really?”, “tell me more”, and “I see.” Essentially, any small verbal expression that confirms your attention.
Learning to listen with love can be challenging at first, but just remember that as you express love, you often receive it too. Others will start to notice your efforts and perhaps be inspired to do better themselves. We all have a need to be heard, and this is just one way you do that for someone else.
- Bellur, S., Nowak, K. L., & Hull, K. S. (2015). Make it our time: In class multitaskers have lower academic performance. Computers in Human Behavior. vol. 53:63-70. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.06.027
- Egan, G. (2013). The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping (10th edition). Cengage Learning.
- Happify. (2015, Dec 7). Why Mindfulness Is a Superpower: An Animation . YouTube.
- Silver, L., Kessel, P. V., Huang, C., Clancy, L., & Gubbala, S. (2021). What Makes Life Meaningful? Views From 17 Advanced Economies. Pew Research Center. Retrieved March 8, 2022.
- Studio C. (2018, Feb 27). I’m Listening . YouTube.