Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were pouring your heart out, but the other person was not listening or paying attention? They maybe heard you out, but you got the sense they weren’t listening. They maybe too busy checking their emails or texting, and you can tell how distracted they are.
Unfortunately, we have all likely made others feel the same way quite a few times too. Today in this fast-paced world, the importance of effective listening is paramount. However, with more work and less time, people are devoting less and less time to listening to what others have to say. While listening and hearing seem to be the same thing, they are not. True effective listening is a skill that you may have to learn. True listening requires effort. It requires the willingness to fully immerse oneself in the conversation and genuinely respond to what the other person has to say. Active listening is an act of care and respect and makes the other person feel acknowledged and heard.
Distracting listening is not only annoying, but it is also disrespectful. Therefore, it is important for everyone to learn what distinguishes them from being a poor listener to being a good listener. Let’s take a look at ten ways you can become a better lister.
1. Don’t Interrupt When Someone is Talking
Although you might be bored by being on the receiving end of the conversation and might feel the urge to cut into what the speaker is saying to say your piece, rule number one of being a good listener is not interrupting the speaker. It makes them feel unimportant and hurried. Interrupting a person who’s talking can be extremely frustrating and is seen as a sign of disrespect by the speaker. It is important to fully concentrate on listening and being silent when someone is speaking. Wait until the speaker is done talking to respond and give your comments. Leslie Shore, author of the book Listen to Succeed, says, “When we begin working on a reply before the speaker is finished, we lose both the complete information being offered and an understanding of the kind of emotion present in the speaker’s delivery”. Waiting until the end of the sentence before replying can serve to grow speakers’ self-confidence and can make them comfortable in your presence.
2. Move Away from the Distractions
Texting on phones, taking sudden calls and scrolling your Instagram feed can make others feel as if you are not interested in what they are saying. It’s just rude. You might also miss some information pertinent to the topic being discussed if your head is in too many places. In order to be a better listener, it is important to learn how to overcome distractions. Your sole attention and focus should be towards the person who is speaking. You should clear your mind in order to be fully present to have a quality conversation. Putting your phones down can help ensure that you are not engaged in more than one place, and you are giving your undivided attention to the speaker, allowing you to better understand.
3. Eye contact
Maintaining eye contact can be really important for effective communication. When people are talking, they want all eyes and concentration on them. When the audience makes eye contact with the speaker, the speaker feels that what they are saying is valuable. It makes them feel that their communication is meaningful. Imagine yourself talking to someone. What you are saying is of value to you, and you would want the other person to hold it in high regard too. Now would you want the other person – your listener – to read a text, look down at their fingertips or start talking to someone else? No, you wouldn’t! Remember, eye contact is very important: It has the capacity to communicate different messages to different people. This tactic is increasingly important, specifically during the Covid pandemic. Although everything has shifted online, people may not be able to see your whole face, but they definitely can see your eyes.
And by eye contact, we don’t mean a hard, deep stare, instead just a gaze in their direction (ideally the eye/nose triangle for 70% of the time). The next time someone is talking to you, avoid the temptation to look anywhere but their face. It is not always easy, especially if the topic the other person is talking about is of no interest to you.
In this case, either redirect the conversation to a new topic or make your excuses to leave.
4. Listen Not Just to Be Polite
One general observation is that people mostly listen to others out of generosity, not curiosity. As Ajit Singh, consulting professor in the School of Medicine at Stanford University, said, “Listening is good, but the intent has to be curiosity, not generosity.”
It has been argued that if you finish a conversation and fail to learn anything at all, it just means that you were not really listening. Remember, the aim here is not to be polite but instead to be able to learn something new. Try fostering that curiosity within you, and you are more likely to begin listening more intently and effectively. Every day ask yourself what is it that you are curious about and how many things are you mostly wrong about. These two questions are likely to open up your mind to a wonderful host of things. It will definitely help you have a beginner’s mindset when walking into a new conversation.
5. Positive Body Language
A person’s body language can be used to infer a lot of material. It can help the speaker understand if you are curious, uninterested or nervous? A good listener’s body language is different and easily noticeable. They usually lean forward and mostly express interest. Their facial expression has a lot to say as well. Their facial expression is either that they are usually smiling, expressing concern or showing empathy as well. It is this body language that tells the speaker that they are being heard.
Let’s consider an example. Imagine you come home from school and tell your mother you had a really tough day – and your mother continues scrolling through her phone. Now is that a good response? No! Not at all.
But what if your mother looks up from her phone and asks you with questioning eyes? “Oh no! What happened?” Now, does this not give you a sense that you are being heard and are being listened to?
According to research by Alan Gurney, “The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them”.
This is perhaps one of the best ways to show that you are interested. If someone is telling you about something, don’t simply reply with a “Nice! Or “That must be fun!”. Instead, you can express interest by asking questions such as “How was the place?” Or “What was your experience like?” The person speaking will then think of you as a great conversationalist. Ask open questions to let them give rich answers.
7. Confidential information means “Confidential”
Remember to listen with care whatever is being told to you. If you sense that the information is confidential in nature and that the speaker wants it to remain that way, keep it that way. No matter how strong the urge to spill the beans, don’t! Being a good listener means being trustworthy and being sensitive to the information that is being shared with you. Try to assure the speaker that the information they have shared shall remain a secret and is safe with you. This will be a source of relief for them since they will feel that they have a person with who they can trust and share their sensitive information.
This confidence with help deepen your relationship since the most important aspect of confidentiality is that it helps to maintain trust. It allows free transfer of information between the listener and the speaker and ensures that the speaker’s personal life, problems and successes all belong to them alone. To sum it all up – Be like a therapist: learn to listen and refrain from making any judgement at all.
8. Repeat What You Heard
This process can also be called ‘active listening. The basic point here is to repeat exactly what you heard. If the speaker agrees that what you heard is exactly what he or she intended to say, then yes, you can move on. If this, however, does not happen, then ask the speaker to rephrase their statement and continue to do so until you – the listener – really are able to understand. As Adam Goodman, director of the centre for leadership at Northwestern University, says, “Put simply, there’s more opportunity to misunderstand than there is to actually understand.” This is because many problems may interfere with a person’s ability to understand what information exactly is the other person trying to convey. Question yourself “Am I understanding what the other person is saying?” or “Am I agreeing too quickly and may disagree in the future?” And make sure to repeat what you heard!
You can move on to summarising and paraphrasing as ways of demonstrating that you understood, that this person is being heard and that you are paying attention and are interested in what they have to say.
9. Make Suggestions!
Good listening is more than simply being silent: it has to do with good feedback as well. This feedback should be given in a way that the other person is willing to accept, and that will provide the other person with an alternate route to follow. Someone who remains silent throughout the conversation and then, by the end, provides a solution will not really be deemed as credible. Try not to appear too critical of what the other person is saying as well. When you tend to be too sceptical of what the other person is saying and then at the end decide to give a suggestion, then you tend to appear less trustworthy. Remember, it is important that you not only make suggestions but also make them in a way that is acceptable and credible for the speaker. According to research by the Harvard Business Review, ‘making suggestions is not the problem; it can be the skill with which those suggestions are made”.
10. Include Interactions that Build a Person’s Self-Esteem
Try and make the conversation a positive experience for the speaker. This is only possible if the listener is active and not passive – even critical. One way to be a good listener is to support the speaker and convey a sense of confidence in them. A positive experience and good listening mean creating a safe environment in which all differences and problems can be discussed openly on common ground. Thus try making your conversation with someone a positive experience through interactions that could help build the speaker’s self-esteem.
Listen without thinking about what you are going to say next – properly listen and tune in.
While you may think of yourself as a good listener, you may not be judging yourself too accurately. According to our experience, good listening can narrow down to 3 things which include not talking when others are speaking, letting others know that you are listening through facial and verbal expressions or sounds and being able to repeat what the other person said.
Being a good listener is not equivalent to being like a sponge; rather, good listeners can be like trampolines. They bounce off ideas, and instead of absorbing your energy and ideas, they tend to amplify them. They make you feel better not simply by absorbing but by actively supporting you. In this world of today, where people are disconnected due to smartphones and social media, and currently, even due to the pandemic, listening skills have become more important than ever. Remember that better listening skills can help you develop better, deeper and more honest relationships.
Try these out and see if it helps bring a change in you by making you a better listener!
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