When you are spoken to do you just hear or do you actually listen? It is a common misconception that when we hear someone speak we are automatically listening to what they are saying. For example, how frustrating is it when you are talking to someone as they type away on their phone? Imagine those times when you confided in a loved one and all they did was up to you and say “Huh? Can you repeat that?”
The truth is listening is a lot like reading. It involves concentrating on what the other person is saying and grasping the full meaning and impact of their words. The best leadership experts in the world excel at this skill. A lot of times when we read something difficult we attempt to skim, or simply don’t understand what we just read. Likewise, many people who unconsciously hear rather than listen fail to grasp the gist of the conversation.
Here are eight ways you can become a good listener today:
1. Self assess
Ask yourself, “Am I really the ____ I want to be?” Whether you are trying to become a better person, employee, husband, friend, whatever it is, listening is important. Think of ways in which you can improve yourself and go for it. Think of the role listening has in self-improvement, in understanding direction, in family life, etc. Remind yourself that it is important to listen to constructive criticism and refrain from being defensive.
2. Remove distractions
It is a known fact that humans’ brains tune out much of what is heard in the immediate environment. As a matter of fact, you are still hearing things even as you sleep. According to auditory neurologist, Seth S. Horowitz, concentrating to pay attention is what makes listening that much more difficult than just hearing. You need to realize that you cannot pay attention to everything at once. You can’t read that email from your mother and listen to your manager’s instructions at the same time. To be a good listener you have to give the person speaking your full and undivided attention.
3. It’s not about you
Becoming a better listener involves understanding that this person wants to be heard, not listen to you. Do not interrupt them. Hold on to any comments or questions until the end. Wait until this person is done speaking to begin a conversation. How are you to be well informed without the whole story? Keep this in mind and don’t start to talk until the other person is finished.
4. Get rid of the “me too” habit
When someone tells you a story, you should share your own right? Not always. It’s like that one time you told someone you were going on vacation to India for two weeks only to have them go off on a tangent about their adventures there while studying abroad. Attempting to ‘one up’ someone’s story or cutting them to interject with your own shows the person you are speaking to that you are not interested in listening to what they have to say. Stop it and listen, just listen.
5. Watch your body language
It’s not only about listening but looking like you are listening. If you’ve found that you’ve removed all distractions and are still having a hard time digesting the conversation, think of your body language. Are you looking past the speaker? Are you fiddling with your sleeves? Don’t. Look at their face, nod a few times, lean slightly toward them and don’t cross your arms. Train yourself to listen with your whole body, not just your ears.
6. Focus on the speaker
If you are speaking to someone on the phone, turn away from your computer. If you are speaking through an online program, close your door. Likewise, if you are speaking to this person up close and personal, it is important that you make eye contact. Not only will it make them feel important, it will help you grasp the urgency of the matter.
7. Mentally Paraphrase
OK, so not all the people we talk to have the most interesting or understandable things to say. If you find yourself having issues paying attention to what someone is saying, try mentally paraphrasing important points. Not only will this help you stay focused, it will force you to pay attention.
8. Ask relevant questions
There is no better way to show you listened than to pick up on loose ends and ask about them. Asking an open ended question or many to clear any doubts or possible misconceptions. Chances are the person speaking to you will be delighted to answer. Not only do questions open up discussion about possible flashpoints, they also allow for smoother flowing conversations.
Throughout this process, keep in mind that listening is a key process when it comes to creating meaningful relationships. People who feel like you’ve listened, are more likely to appreciate your efforts whether they be professional or simply a matter of self-improvement.
Listening, really listening is difficult when there are so many distractions around us. Hopefully, using these 8 tips you’ll become known as a good listener.
Featured photo credit: flickr via flickr.com