Be curious and listen—that’s what matters
Do you know how impactful you can be when you listen?
Do you know how charismatic you can be when you ask questions?
When you are curious about the other person, ask questions, and listen to them, you do one simple but important thing.
You make them feel like they matter.
You make them feel seen and heard.
You make them feel like they exist, just as they are.
But people don’t listen. They don’t do it enough and don’t do it well.
It’s so simple, and many people don’t understand how much they can deepen their relationships and awareness of others at work and social life.
The most common complaints in relationships disagreement are about not feeling heard, not being seen, or recognized for what people do, who they are, and what they are experiencing.
And yet, with a few simple steps, you can make the other person turn the page on a stubborn argument and help them move forward. When you make them feel heard and understood, they don’t feel a need to carry on and continue to strengthen their case or to argue.
When they feel heard, they rest assured that their words, their point of view, sunk in and made a difference.
So, why don’t we listen well? Here are a few things that bad listeners do. See if you fall in any of these:
They talk for fifty-five minutes, and by the time the conversation ends, they ask, “Hey, but what is going on with you?” Seriously? We have five minutes left, you have talked the whole time, and only now you care to ask about me?
They ask a question, listen for about five minutes, and then grab what was shared to bring the conversation back to them, and of course, hold on to it and never give it back.
They listen to what others said, but their minds are running with solutions, ideas, or different perspectives. They can’t wait to share it because they think it’s necessary, or they have a subconscious need to show their knowledge or claim status in the conversation.
They are distracted and do not stop what they are doing to give full attention to the speaker.
They have biases about the other person and limit their perception and receptivity to what is shared.
Ok, I’ll stop here for now.
Most of the time, people don’t want our solutions; they want to talk, vent, express their emotions, and share something important to them.
I understand that it is in our human nature to bring forward a solution; we want to help and jump in by giving advice. But how can you deliver solutions to them if you don’t know what they want in the first place?
The truth is, you do not always know better. So I’d say be quiet and listen.
Now, let’s look at what you can do instead.
First and foremost, quiet down your biases. I mention this so many times in my coaching sessions or classes after sharing a model for feedback, change management, or any conversation that can be controversial. If you enter the discussion with preconceived biases about the other person, guess what? No matter what you say, your energy won’t reflect your words, and they will sense it. So, as you listen to the other person, quiet your mind, forget that you believe you know better, and raise your curiosity to see their side of the world.
Set an intention to not interrupt, no matter what. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, and yet, this is the most common issue. Let people talk and share all they have to say. Relax your facial muscles, take that frown down, show up open and receptive. I know it’s hard, but you’re going to have to practice this one. Bite your tongue and try to understand what the other person is saying. A coach/mentor of mine once told me: “If you put people in front of a lamppost and ask them to talk to it for one hour, they often come to their resolutions by just talking and processing things.”
Be curious. As you listen to people, if you do this well, they will trigger more thoughts and questions for you. Here is when you move into curiosity and ask open-ended questions to know more about them, their stories, or anything that is happening in their lives. And as they share, if you listen well, their words will trigger curiosity, which will trigger another question. And then another, and then another. By doing this, you’ll gain a ton of information about them, and help them move through their realizations.
Now, here is what you can say next. Repeat and rephrase what you heard back to the speaker as a form of acknowledgment and validation of what they are experiencing. If not sure what it is, you can say: “I’m trying to get a sense of what you’re feeling, and I think it’s XYZ” Is this correct?” Let the person agree or correct you.
Then ask, “How frustrated, angry, tired (put the emotion here) are you?” or directly, “How is this affecting you?” Again give them time to respond. Be prepared for a cascade of emotions. A lot might come out as you allow them to share. Listen, hold back judgments, don’t respond, even if you disagree, until they have finished. Let them vent!
Here then, you acknowledge the struggle: Say something like: “It must be challenging to go through this; no wonder you feel frustrated, tired, etc….” Use your own words, be genuine, and mean it. This is key, because at this point you’ll make them feel heard and that they matter. Someone has their back, and they can finally let go of it. A quick tip: when you acknowledge, don’t say, “I understand,” but “It’s understandable.” Keep it neutral; you are not in their shoes.
Support them forward: If you believe they want it, ask how you can support them in making things better. Here is when you move them towards a solution, something they can start doing to change. Continue to ask questions and coach them through it. You’ll know then if someone wants to tell a story or if they need your help working through a problem. Adjust your questions accordingly. And move them toward a mindset of solutions.
Follow through with actions on your conversations. If this is a conversation where you ended it with an agreement and commitments, then both of you need to stick to it and check in regularly for progress. If not, leave it alone, they’ll let you know when they are ready to talk again. And if you were a good listener, I can guarantee you that they will reach back. Finally, know that the words “I know what you mean” don’t necessarily imply, “I agree with you.” What it shows is that you are willing to listen to them, their perspective, or their struggles. By doing this, you keep the door open to them, and they’ll understand that even if you don’t agree, you are allowing free conversations to happen.
And remember, inside every human being, no matter how important or mundane, is a real person who wants to “feel like they matter.”
Satisfy that need, and you’ll transform yourself from an ordinary person in the crowd to a charismatic friend and ally.
Want to practice? Call me!
Roberto Giannicola - Executive Coach and Facilitator