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5 Simple Ways To Be A Better Listener

5 Simple Ways To Be A Better Listener


    Are you really listening?

    In my journey toward better communication, here are 5 ways I’ve found to help reduce the distractions we face in communication:

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    1. Clear some space –

    I started “clearing space” by removing everything from my work area that wasn’t related to the conversation at hand. As the notion of space trickled into other parts of my life, I found myself silencing my phone during meals. I started taking notes during presentations instead of Tweeting. And I gave pause after others spoke before replying. I soon discovered that I wasn’t just getting more out of conversations; I was finding more value in time spent alone!

    2. Control your limbs –

    You’ve probably been in conversations with people who talk with their limbs; most use their hands. Listening with limbs is another story. Confession: I am a pen-clicker. You know those annoying people who click their pens without realizing it? I am one. If I click my pen while you’re talking, you’ll probably be distracted. If I rearrange my silverware at dinner while you’re talking, you’ll be distracted. So I got rid of my click-able pens and made a point to avoid behaviors that not only distracted others but also caused them to think I wasn’t listening (in most cases, I probably wasn’t).

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    3. Ask questions –

    I’ve found that the best listeners make a regular practice of asking thoughtful questions. When you reach a pause in conversation, ask a question that clarifies a previous point or helps to dig deeper into the topic of conversation. The person or group you’re talking to will gain value from your question and you’ll find it easier to resist distractions because your mind is fully engaged.

    4. Make a move –

    When you know you’ll be sitting for an extended period of time (shareholder meeting at work, looking through a 450-page photo album with Auntie Dorothy, etc), put in a few minutes of exercise ahead of time. There’s no need to break a sweat, just put in enough effort so your breathing deepens. When you go to sit, you’ll have more blood running to your brain for thinking and the chair might actually feel comfortable following your effort. I’m afraid no amount of exercise will make folding metal chairs comfortable. I’m sorry.

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    5. Enforce a “no-fly zone”

    This is a block of time you set aside each day that is completely free from the buzzing flotsam of media and work inputs. Silence your phone, close the laptop, put away the papers, and try your hardest not to even think about the big distractions that follow you around. Do some crunches. Lie on the floor and watch the ceiling fan spin. Hang out with your kids if you’ve got them. If you don’t have kids, hang out with some kids who need your positive influence. Knock something off your “honey-do” list and chat with your partner. Enforce your “no-fly zone” religiously and you’ll soon find a sense of clarity creeping into other aspects of your life.

    Becoming a better listener takes effort and, most importantly, patience. Be warned, however, for once you start truly listening you may find the process habit-forming. When people know they are being heard they tend to share amazing things we certainly would have missed otherwise.

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    Looking back, has there been a moment when everything would have been different had you been a better listener? Join us on Facebook and tell us about it!

    Image: PracticalOwl

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    Seth Simonds

    Seth writes about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

    “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

    Are we speaking the same language?

    My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

    When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

    Am I being lazy?

    When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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    Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

    Early in the relationship:

    “Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

    When the relationship is established:

    “Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

    It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

    Have I actually got anything to say?

    When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

    A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

    When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

    Am I painting an accurate picture?

    One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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    How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

    Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

    What words am I using?

    It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

    Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

    Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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    Is the map really the territory?

    Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

    A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

    I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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