I feel that good listening is the ability to provide the proper supportive reaction, whether it is empathy, advice or admiration/condemnation, to fulfill the needs of the communicator. Being empathetic could be a matter of simply sitting down and attentively nodding occasionally, accompanied with an empathetic "Mmm...yeah, I understand." Good listening could also be a matter of addressing an individual's situation by providing advice: "Based on what you've told me, I see a couple options that you could proceed with." Lastly, sometimes we get into a case of ego, split into a dichotomy of admiration or condemnation. When someone hints or even boasts of a personal accomplishment, good listening through admiration may be to flatter somebody's ego, where they need to be heard and then cushioned with lavish compliments. The opposite is also valid, where good listening is a condemnation of a person's actions, when they are wrong and need to be chastised for our actions. We chastise them because they need it; in turn, they respect and appreciate such feedback because they are seeking our honest opinion. The importance here is a balance between reading the other person's intention and our discretion of how honest we should be with what we are thinking. Often times, what the other individual wants to hear at that point in time with the idea he/she intends through his message is polarized with what the individual needs to hear. Good listening is not an absolute where we provide either what they need OR what they want, but providing either or at the proper time. Good listening is indeed difficult to compartmentalize, especially when we work under a contextual definition like the one I've provided. After all, how do we make the judgment of when it's the right time to sit down and listen versus speaking our mind? I provide examples of two of my close friends, both whom I consider to be good listeners. I've known both friends for ten years now and consider both to be confidantes, people I can trust and talk to about any situations in my life. However, the types of situations I confide in them with are different.
For instance, I talk to my friend, Josh, because he does an amazing job of sitting down with me and saying the absolute minimum. He does this both when I need to unload either my complaints about the world and when I unload my recent accomplishments that I'm proud of. Providing advice is not something he does, but what he does do is provide a sympathetic "Ah" or "Mmm" in between my sentences that lets me know he's still attentive. Furthermore, he mirrors my emotions with precise accuracy and I feel as if he gets it, even if he's never experienced that situation before. He is proud of me when I'm proud of myself and he is mad when I'm mad.
When I met Josh at Tim Hortons recently, I instantly started complaining about a bad driver that cut me off from merging on the highway. "What a loser," he commented, stirring his sugar in his coffee, "people like that shouldn't be on the road." I thought to myself, "Exactly! That's what I was thinking." Our conversation continued and it turned to school. I boasted, "Josh, guess what? I dominated that finance exam I had. It turns out I got 87% which got me an A for a final mark!" "Haha, NICE! That's just like you," he remarked with a knowing smile. I nodded in agreement, my ego satisfied.
Compare that with my friend, Michael. I was over at Michael's place, conversing in the kitchen about my latest business plan. "Mike, do you remember tutoring in high school? I had the worst chemistry tutor ever. He had all the qualifications and yet he couldn't communicate. It was pretty frustrating back then, especially when my grades were linked to applying to university. I came up with an idea of a tutoring company where we could motivate students, be tutors, and market ourselves as being strong communicators!" Michael listened attentively, and then proceeded to shoot a barrage of questions at me about the business. "Who is in your primary target market? How will you market yourself and gain clients? Where does your credibility lie?" I stared at him blankly and shook my head, "I haven't thought about any of that yet..."
Michael is a very good listener, but I would never approach him with complaints and neither would I search for flattery during our conversations. He is very analytical, so he will take a situation and dissect it; that's why I go to him for advice. Josh, my first friend, takes a more understanding approach to listening where empathy plays a big part on how he reacts. I find it frustrating when I talk to Josh when I need feedback because he rarely comes up with advice.
As one can see, both individuals are excellent listeners in different contexts. A good listener would be somebody that can be a chameleon and react like Michael or Josh in appropriate situations. They are emotionally mature enough to ask proper questions that will let them know what kind of listening they should be doing. This would allow them to mirror the person adequately.
To summarize, good listening stems from care for the other person. The level of focus and intensity of listening varies with how much you actually care about a) the other person as an individual, b) what the other person is saying, c) how relevant the conversation topic is to you. That's why bad listening is simply using any listening reaction at the wrong time. When our focus on the other person's needs decreases, we are less likely to be a good listener. This is why good listening is so difficult because we are generally more self-centered than caring. The best listeners I have met are fully present 100% of the time with the person they are with.
A blog on my continuing journey through life, covering self-development and success strategies, but also personal reflection.