A great listener is almost empathic. They can make anyone feel important and like they have something worth hearing. Everyone does have something worth hearing and if you’re talking to them, they deserve to be important until the conversation is over. We might not agree with everything they have to say, but they deserve a voice if we’re giving them our attention. And they deserve our undivided attention.
Being a great listener is also rewarding. Not only will people want to talk to us more, but we will understand them and their perspectives more deeply. And that knowledge and connection is invaluable as a human.
So what are some good things to keep in mind in order to be a more attentive listener? Here are some tips to help get started (and that I need to constantly remind myself of):
Understand what the other party is looking to get out of your time together. This should allow us to maintain a mental outline of what the other person is trying to get across. We don’t have to do this so much if we’re just hanging out with friends. But in meetings it’s a must. And sometimes friends and romantic partners have a point they want to get across as well.
Face the speaker. This shows that we’re listening and paying attention. We will hear better if we see the person talking actually moving their lips. And it’s a sign of respectfully engaging in the conversation.
Lean in. But maintain an open posture. Think of having an open heart that’s pointed at the speaker. When we lean in, maintain that open posture. The person we’re talking to will thank us, as will our backs.
Make eye contact. Leaning in, keeping an open posture, and facing the speaker shouldn’t be a conscious distraction from the speaker. While you’re actively listening, make sure to keep eye contact. Scan the room and make note of each other person, but we should always make sure our eyes rest back on the person talking.
Don’t touch the devices. Yes, this includes our smart watch, phone, and laptop. Not only is it a sign of respect but it also keeps us from missing an important point. This includes other distractions as well as electronics, but they’re the ones that get in the way the most.
Take notes on paper. That mental outline from earlier. That could be put on paper as well. If we aren’t using electronics, we can keep a notebook with us. This helps us stay focused and provides a mental reminder of what was said during the meeting.
Don’t interrupt. We don’t need to propose solutions. We should listen and take in a full argument or topic before we respond. This will help with relationships with friends and family as well. Instead, wait until the person talking has stopped for a few seconds (or as many as 5( to start talking. And when we do talk, we should start with questions to clarify any points.
Frame questions in a way that shows we are listening. Use those questions when asking them to make sure we understand what’s being said. Speak slowly when asking questions. OK, so we don’t want to speak so slowly that it seems like we’re being contrived or inauthentic. But we do want to be deliberate and to show we’re being deliberate our of respect. This works both ways, like when we’re communicating something as well.
Paraphrase. When asking questions, we should always paraphrase the topic we have questions about. This shows we’re hearing and understanding and will help to eliminates misunderstandings and frame the question with the topic it’s about.
Pay attention to body language. A lot goes unsaid and nonverbal queues are important to notice with some people. Does the person talking slump when they talk about something specific? Best to dig into why. Do their eyes break contact when they talk about future plans? Do they always have an itch when they talk financials? These are all things we can’t notice if we aren’t facing them and taking note not only of the words they’re using but also of how they are acting.
Stay open minded. Being critical or judgmental is a problem. And it doesn’t just manifest itself in our words but in our actions. Be mindful of what our body language might be communicating to the person we’re talking to.
Listen to the words. Words matter. Specific choices of what words to use can very much change the narrative being told. Same with people we’re communicating with. But we shouldn’t be critical when words are misused. Unless the person we’re talking to needs to understand a poor word choice and is actually open enough to handle positive feedback.
Leave our own stories out. We all have little stories, or parables, we like to tell. When listening to a friend or in a meeting, especially if it is someone else’s meeting, let’s just not bring our own stories to the table just yet. We can always follow up later, but let’s not take the conversation away from the person we’re talking to until it opens up to to us.
Put ourselves in the speaker’s shoes. If we’re watching a presentation or sitting in a meeting, think about how we might interpret someone saying what we are thinking of saying. This type of compassion not only helps us become more intimate with the other party but also helps us better understand what’s being communicated and leads to further enrichment in our own lives.
Actually care about what the other person is saying. Again, we all have value. Our perspectives, our capabilities, our intuitions. Understanding everything we can about someone else is one of the finest things we can do every day. And making them feel valued just makes our own lives better, while making them feel heard and valued.
There are involuntary reactions. It’s just human nature. There are times we just can’t help but pipe up. But as we mature, hopefully we can have more rewarding and thoughtful interactions with friends, family, coworkers, customers, and partners. We deserve that, just as they do.
And what we learn from these types of interactions will increase our understanding of so many subjects and on so many levels. Even if it isn’t something we’re instantly drawn to!