“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.
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 …”
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:
- 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.
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