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How to practice listening


For me the way to listen better is to turn the scenarios below into a video game.

I score points whenever I use techniques like below.

I lose points (and go red like the image below) whenever I say something I regret, waste my breath, or escalate a situation.

pill / power meter showing 39 / 100

If you haven’t seen my ‘Create the Space’ speech on the importance of listening yet, stop reading and watch it. You’ll learn and remember more of what follows after viewing it.

When someone says something routine

Like “How are you doing?”, “How was your weekend?”, “What goin on?”

  • Smile, make eye contact, and listen closer
  • Respond with how you’re really doing – “sore, tired, happy, bored, sleepy…”
  • Lean in and ask a follow-up question
  • Just say “Do you want to tell me more?”

When someone wants to argue

  • Practice steel-manning
  • Remember A good mind can value two competing thoughts.
  • Find the strengths in their argument and explain them
  • Describe the weaknesses in your own argument

When you’re in an emotional conversation

Like when you hear words like “you”, “fault”, “but”, or things that sound like blame, or hear a loud voice, or feel strong emotion.

  • Pause. Take a deep breath, maybe two. Pause.
  • Ask yourself: What’s the harm in listening?
  • Remember – it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to be wrong.
  • It’s okay to be right too but you probably won’t convince someone in an emotional conversation.
  • Decide what to do: wrap it up and “discuss tomorrow” maybe?

When you feel someone needs to talk

  • Say “tell me more”
stick figure complaining to another
the other stick figure says, "tell me more."

When you just want inspiration

Remember these quotes/paraphrased notes from Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, particularly for those hard, emotional conversations with your favorite human.

  • We love someone when the importance of her needs and desires rises to the level of our own or higher. 
  • Couples in conflict want: to be respected and to feel that they are the center of their partner’s life
  • The paradox of perfection: in some settings like intimate relationships, we gain control only by relinquishing it. 
  • The walls of our self-constructed prisons are made up in equal parts of our fear of risk and our dream that the world and the people in it will conform to our wishes. It is hard to let go of a comforting illusion, harder still to construct a happy life out of perceptions and beliefs that do not correspond to the world around us. 
  • When people are asked to stop making disparaging comments at the root of marital conflict, they shift responsibility for change from themselves to the other like an international conflict. No one wants to be the first to cease retaliation, fearing that it will make them vulnerable. 
  • Most of us no matter how cynical wish for something better for our children. Use this desire to get people to try new things. The leverage is that children learn the majority of what they know from their parents. 
  • Our feelings depend mainly on our interpretation of what is happening to us and around us – our attitudes. It is not what occurs, but how we define events and respond that determines how we feel.
  • I believe in what works. What you’re doing now isn’t working. Why not try something else?
  • Changing attitudes and behaviors is a slow, incremental process. (Matt: so give yourself time for the above – to practice :) )
book cover "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart"