Who are the people you appreciate the most?
Many would answer that they appreciate people that listen.
That’s it. We appreciate people who take the time and energy to hear us. To want to understand us. To want to engage in conversation. But not just to talk and tell their own stories. To share in the experience we’re having.
Most people I’ve encountered tell me that I’m rather quiet. That’s mostly true. I don’t know why it’s always been that way, but in recent years I’ve tried to lean into that aspect of my personality and learn how to listen better. I’m definitely not perfect. I’m still working on it. But I think I’ve gotten pretty good.
Obviously in conversation you need to say words. You need to interact. But many skew toward talking too much. It turns people off. You hijack the conversation from them. They don’t feel heard. They feel negative about the situation.
Here are a few ways to turn that around as a way to improve your relationships.
I find that reading helps me avoid the urge to talk. Obviously it’s simple… If you’re reading to yourself you’re not flapping your mouth. But I think there is more to it than that. Reading stimulates the brain. It makes you think and contemplate. It allows you to exist in the quiet while tuning out the world. It seems to be good training for enjoying the peace of the world.
Like reading, meditation allows you to enjoy the quiet and get caught up in your own head. I think the technical way most of us think about meditation is sitting with our eyes closed and thinking about nothing. Just observing the world around us. All the senses. No talking. I think it could be more than that. I think it’s just taking time to get lost in what you’re doing. With meditation, I think it could be about keeping your thoughts to yourself and that’s good for avoiding the temptation to talk.
3. Individual Sport
Golf, for me, is a form of meditation. One of my favorite things to do is go out in the backyard in the late evening to hit golf balls into a net for about a half hour. Just thinking about one thing. Immersing myself in the activity. It’s definitely great training for holding your thoughts in and not being too quick to jump into conversation with your every thought.
4. Individual Games & Puzzles
I know people that love playing individual games and puzzles. I don’t have much experience with multi-player gaming online and that kind of thing. I’m thinking old school, but maybe there are similarities. Puzzles are a good example. Immersing yourself into something that requires mind skills. In order for your mind to work, you need to have your mouth closed.
5. Listening Challenges
The next time you’re going for a walk, take the time to listen for new things. New birds. New animals. Perhaps people and their conversations if you’re in a populated area. Then listen for machines. There are all kinds of things. Challenge yourself to listen as closely as possible. Then take it a step further by thinking about the things you hear. This is a great way to build listening skills you can use with your relationships.
6. Quiet Challenges
This type of challenge is to push yourself to be quiet. You could do it during a conversation. See how long you can be quiet. Then do it when you’re at home and your spouse wants to tell you about their day. See how long you can listen. Try it at work. See how long you can go without initiating a conversation. Obviously for most of these things you will want to speak, but for now you want to exaggerate your ability to be quiet while others are speaking.
7. Ask Better Questions
If you’re talking too much with people one of the smaller, lesser recognized issues could be the fact that you’re not asking very good questions. Maybe it’s on purpose. A way to limit how much others are speaking so that you can be the one to dominate and get your thoughts out into the world. But maybe you’re doing it without realizing. Others don’t speak much and you fill the void. Instead, as a challenge, try to ask more open-ended questions. Ask about feelings and stories and experiences. Give others the room to really dive into what they care about in the moment.
These next two are just ways to avoid doing anything that you don’t want to do. Bad habits. For talking, try to delay when you’re going to talk next. It’s like fighting the urge to eat something sweet. You tell yourself that you will eat it, but not for twenty minutes. Then you forget about it and don’t eat it. The next time you have the urge to interrupt the conversation, delay it a minute. You might forget that you wanted to talk.
Instead of talking, try something else when you get the urge. For example, some people will get the urge to drink a soda, but instead they will do 10 pushups. They fill the urge or void with something positive. Do the same with your urge to talk. Instead of talking, listen for new sounds. Instead of talking, count the number of freckles on the other person’s face. Obviously you want to really listen to them, but you might need a few other steps before you can do that.
10. Repetition & Quantity
There is no substitute for this. If you want to get better at not talking you just need to work on it as much as you can. Put yourself in more conversations. Try not talking. You won’t get there all at once, but you will improve when you have the intention. Put in the reps and you’ll get there.