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Published on December 30, 2020

7 Actionable Ways to Develop Good Listening Skills

7 Actionable Ways to Develop Good Listening Skills

Good listening skills are important in just about any area of life. Looking at your own life, can you identify why you want to be a better listener?

Is it to get closer to a loved one? Do you want to begin to understand where your boss is coming from? Do you want to make a good impression at work or among a new group of friends?

Whatever the reason, if you follow these 6 simple steps, you will be on your way to being an expert listener that people open up to with confidence.

1. Recognize What Kind of Listener You Are

Self-awareness is essential as you’re developing good listening skills. You have to know where you are before you can truly change your behavior[1]. Pay attention to the cues other people are giving you as to what kind of listener you are right now. Do any of these ring true?

The Space out

The space out listener can’t maintain focus on the speaker. They get distracted easily and are not concentrating on what the speaker is saying.

The Interrupter

This person can’t help themselves and butts in while the speaker is talking to share something similar that happened to them recently or share another anecdote they think is related.

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The Fixer

This is the person who listens to solve your problem and give unsolicited advice. While their intentions may be helpful, they miss the nuance that the speaker is perfectly capable of handling the situation; they just might need to talk it through.

The Faker

Similar to the space out listener, the faker takes it the extra mile by uttering responses like “Mm-hmm,” “Yep,” “Oh, really?” “Wow, interesting.” They are distracted, on their phone, listening to music, or watching YouTube videos and don’t have a clue as to what you’re saying.

We have all been in conversations with bad listeners. Let’s prevent ourselves from doing that with others through thoughtful and intentional practice of active listening[2].

2. Decide to Be a Better Listener

This is a choice you are actively making in order to improve your relationships at work or at home, so commit to practicing some good listening skills. Here are some things active listeners do on a regular basis:

Listen Without Judgment

They listen to learn and to understand what the other person is saying while setting aside assumptions and experiences they have that might be similar.

Communicate Through Non-Verbal Cues

These cues can include eye contact, nodding, smiling, facing the speaker, and putting their phone away and out of sight. These are also known as body language cues and let the speaker know you are connecting with what they are saying.

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3. Make a Plan

Before speaking with someone, plan out your actions in your head. Decide what you will and won’t do during the conversation to practice good listening skills. For example:

  • I will silence and put away my phone.
  • I will adjust my chair so I am facing the person and making eye contact.
  • I will listen with curiosity and without judgment.
  • I will reflect back what they are saying and ask clarifying questions to help me understand their message.
  • I won’t interrupt.
  • I won’t get distracted by my phone or other people.
  • I won’t listen to solve or fix.

4. Change the Channel

Close your eyes and imagine flipping a switch from on to off. Now, do it again but imagine that Channel 1 is “me-focused” and Channel 2 is “empathy focused.”

When you flip to Channel 2 before a conversation, you automatically prepare by putting away your phone, facing the speaker, suspending judgement, and getting curious about what you are going to learn from this other person.

5. Reflect Back What You Hear

Reflecting back what you hear means summarizing or paraphrasing what they are saying just so they know you hear them. This helps them feel understood and eliminates the possibility of moving forward with incorrect information.

For example, if your boss is describing a project they want done next week, you can reflect the information back with a simple sentence like, “Ok, I understand that you want Project X done by Wednesday at noon, correct?”

6. Listen to Understand, Not to Fix

Listen more than you speak, and be aware of what your brain is doing while the other person is talking. Are you making assumptions? Are you thinking of what advice you can give to make the person feel better and solve his/her situation?

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Remind yourself to listen without judgement and to only offer advice if asked. Good listening skills involve listening to the story the way they are telling it and showing, through non-verbal cues and clarifying questions, that you are hearing and understanding them.

7. Prepare, Practice, Reflect

This is a short routine you can do to improve good listening skills.

Step 1: Prepare Yourself

Similar to Pavlov’s dog experiment from the 1900’s[3], we are going to set up a conditioned response for ourselves every time someone asks “Can I talk with you about something?” Every time someone invites you in to a conversation, you will immediately do these three actions:

  1. Say yes to the invitation.
  2. Silence your phone and put it in a drawer, a purse, or in another room.
  3. Face the speaker and make friendly eye contact.

Now that you are physically set up to listen, let’s discover how you will listen.

Step 2: Practice Active Listening Techniques

Be curious about what you will learn from this person. Suspend judgement and put your advice channel on mute. Listen to understand, not to fix or advise. Reflect back what you hear or ask clarifying questions.

These simple techniques will work wonders for any conversation you enter.

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Step 3: Reflect on How You Did as a Listener

Were you truly present in that moment for the other person, or was your mind wandering? Was it challenging to maintain focus on the speaker? If the answer is yes, this is totally normal and expected because you are building a new skill and re-training your brain to execute this new skill on command. With consistent practice and focus on building this skill, it will soon become a habit.

Final Thoughts

Being a better listener starts with you. You must intentionally prepare your mind for good listening skills because your brain is much too busy with managing your life, worries, and anxieties. When you make the decision to be a better listener, you are tapping into your empathy.

You are actively focusing on the other person and what they need right now. They don’t need to be fixed or told what to do; they need to talk something through, and they picked you as their thought partner. The moment you give the other person your full attention, you are set up for a successful and meaningful conversation.

More Tips on Becoming a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Scientific American: Now Hear This! Most People Stink at Listening
[2] MIT: Key Tips for Active Listening
[3] Simply Psychology: Pavlov’s Dogs

More by this author

Carol Zee

Teaching effective communication skills for 20+ years

How To Be An Assertive Person Without Being Too Pushy 7 Actionable Ways to Develop Good Listening Skills

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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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