My dad grew up on a ranch in North Dakota. He has a saying from his childhood -- you may have heard it elsewhere -- that's: "You learn more by listening than by talking."
Sure, we often gain by thinking out loud, including discovering our truth by speaking it. But on the whole, listening brings lots more valuable information than talking does.
Nonetheless, many people are not the greatest listeners. (You've probably noticed this already: at work, at home, when you're trying to work something out with your partner...) What's it feel like when they don't listen to you? Or maybe listen, but don't inquire further? It's not good. Besides missing out on important information -- including, often most importantly, your underlying feelings and wants -- they're sending the implicit message that they're not that interested (even though, deep down, they might be).
Then turn it around: What do you think they feel like if you don't listen that well to them? Not very good either.
Being a good listener brings many benefits: gathering useful information, making others feel like they matter to you, sustaining a sense of connection with people, and stepping out of your own familiar frame of reference.
One of the best ways to listen well is to ask questions. It makes you an active listener, it shows that you've been paying attention, it can get things out in the open ("Mommy, is that emperor parading in his boxers?!"), and it slows down emotional conversations so they don't get out of hand.
As a therapist, I ask questions for a living. Plus I've been married a long time through thick and thin, and raised two kids. As they say in medicine: Good judgment comes from experience... and experience comes from bad judgment. So I offer some fruits of my bad judgments!
- Questions can be nonverbal. A raised eyebrow, a nod to say more, or simply letting there be a bit of silence are all signals to the other person to keep going.
- "How was _______ for you?"
If your intentions are good, it's really OK to ask questions. Usually, people welcome them. Take confidence in your good intentions and good heart.
For more by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., click here.
For more on emotional intelligence, click here.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 20 languages) and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (in 8 languages). Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he's taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and O Magazine and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter - Just One Thing - has over 34,000 subscribers, and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.