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7 Things Truly Amazing Listeners Do Differently

7 Things Truly Amazing Listeners Do Differently

“We are given two ears, but only one mouth. This is because God knew that listening was twice as hard as talking.” — Anon

How many times have you switched off when somebody is talking to you? This is just one of the questions you should ask yourself if you think that you are a really good listener. Great listening skills are the foundations for effective communication in every walk of life, be they politics, relationships, business, parenting, religion, or international diplomacy.

Here are the seven things that make truly amazing listeners stand out from the crowd. When you read these, you might have to redefine your status of being a great listener, or you might just be able to pat yourself on the back.

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1. They really listen

You know the scene. You mention a curious fact or somebody interesting you met at the weekend and want to tell your friend. The amazing listener will actually listen to what you have to say and will not take this as a cue to start off on their own weekend. This is what they do instead:

  • Encourage you to give more details by asking about why, when and where.
  • Give you their full attention and they never start sending texts while listening.
  • Ask for clarification without giving the impression that they know more or better.
  • They can gently probe to discover fears.

Read the following sample from a nurses’ training guide about how active listening works.

2. They restate in a helpful manner

Because they are really present and giving you their full attention, they can actually restate what you are saying when you are troubled, perplexed or doubtful. They will be able to reiterate the points that can help you reflect and summarize what you are trying to get across. They often use the expression, “I’m hearing that … but you feel …”

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3. They know how to use eye contact

They know how to maintain eye contact. They know instinctively that it is a great help in keeping all the visual distractions at bay. There is nothing worse than a listener who fails to make eye contact, or keeps on shifting his or her gaze around the room, especially at a party or official reception. When Bill Clinton met a journalist in South Africa, his eye contact was more than effective as recounted below:

“Clinton looked me in the eyes and seemed to have a genuine interest in what I was saying. His gaze never left me. He made me feel like the most important person in the room at the time, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates was standing right next to us!”

4. They use body language effectively

Great listeners usually use body language to send the right signals that they are listening. Here is what they are so good at:

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  • Nodding when appropriate.
  • Leaning forward when sitting down.
  • Rarely crossing arms as it can give the impression of defensiveness or closure.
  • Being conscious of how mouth, hands and facial expression can help the speaker.
  • Keeping fidgeting such as drumming fingers under control.
  • Expressing interest and curiosity without being over the top.

5. They can follow up on conversations

There is nothing worse than coming up against a colleague or acquaintance who cannot remember essential facts from a previous exchange. The amazing listener has all this worked out. He or she is skilled at recalling facts. They are often distinguished by the following openers:

  • I remember that you told me you were …
  • How is X coming along?
  • I know you were worried about Y. Have there been any developments?
  • What happened when you asked your boss for that raise?

6. They listen smarter

Let’s face it. These listeners have very few preconceived ideas about what they are going to hear. All too often, bias is the default position when we listen. We give too much importance to our inner voice.

But the skilled listeners approach the story and the storyteller with an open mind so that no time is wasted in getting rid of certain assumptions. They also know that the 80 percent listening time versus the 20 percent speaking time ratio is usually right. They also know that efficient listening is going to prevent misunderstandings and trouble later on. It pays to listen smarter.

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7. They look for the right environment

You know how difficult it is to talk to somebody on the phone or with a desk in front of you. The amazing listeners know that the right listening environment does make a difference. They usually:

  • Move from behind the desk to sit beside the speaker.
  • Remove any other obstacles so that communication is maximized.
  • Make every effort to meet face to face.
  • Always turn off devices and minimize possible interruptions.

Read how counselors are trained to create the right listening environment for troubled children. There are lots of useful tips here for any listening session.

Great listeners are on a winning streak. They have enormous advantages over those who talk too much, dominate conversations and have few empathetic skills. It’s a win-win situation if you really are an amazing listener.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” — Dale Carnegie

Featured photo credit: Symphony of love/ BK and Ben Grey via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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