5 ways to be a better listener
If my last post about the 10 types of lousy listeners made you feel like a bit of a heel, don’t fret. You’re not alone. First of all, even after having written and reflected on that article, I think I’m still the biggest contender for lousiest listener in the world.
Secondly, research has shown that the average person only listens at about 25% efficiency. So phew.
It’s a pity, though, because it makes you wonder how much more peaceful and pleasant the world would be if people only listened better. How much more would we know? How many mistakes, fights and misunderstandings would have been avoided? It’s something worth thinking about. So if, like me, you’d like to try to be a better listener, here are 5 ways to get on the right track.
1. Stop multitasking.
I honestly do believe that a lot of the time, poor listening is simply the result of a failure to focus on just one thing. And we have the nasty and overrated practice of multitasking to blame for that.
So QUIT IT. Get rid of all distractions when someone is speaking to you. Put your blasted smartphone away, close the door (literally and figuratively) to everyone and everything else, and just FOCUS.
2. Be present.
When listening, our thoughts can be the biggest distractions of all. We might look like we’re there, but we’re really not. We’re either somewhere in the past, or somewhere in the future. Stop thinking about how something similar happened to you before, or about the next thing you have to do. Bring yourself into the now.
If you have a hard time doing this, psychotherapist Terri Cole says that you can achieve this simply by taking a deep breath, closing your eyes and counting to 10. If that doesn’t work, she suggests a couple more exercises that might help.
- Conscious Observation. Take an object, like your phone or a pen. For 60 seconds, look at it, feel it, observe it without judging it. (Don't think about whether you like it, it's time to get an updated model, etc. Just observe it for what it actually is.)
- 60-second Meditation. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and simply follow your inhales and exhales for 60 seconds.
This might mean having to delay that conversation that someone wants to have with you by a minute or so…
But it’s worth it. Bringing yourself back into the present is a great thing to do even just for yourself. To paraphrase a quote by Russell Friedman, “When you have one foot in the past and another in the future, you’re pissing on the present” – and missing out on all the awesome things that are happening here and now.
3. Focus ONLY on what the other person is saying.
This quote by Stephen Covey really made me gasp with guilt. It’s so true.
Listening isn’t about you. It’s about the other person. This is the part of communication when the ball is in HIS OR HER court. Stop pre-empting your turn. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t judge or immediately agree or disagree. Don’t try to relate what you’re hearing to your own experience. Don’t think about solutions, or a snappy comeback. Just listen, with an open mind.
4. Look while you listen.
How often do we really look people in the eye when they’re talking to us? I don’t know about you, but I really don’t do that as often as I should. More often than not, I’m looking at a computer screen or peeking at my chirping phone, or even worse, my watch.
It’s important to look at people when they’re talking, not only because it’s really quite RUDE not to, but also because effective listening involves reading non-verbal cues (facial expressions, body language, etc) as well. Words convey only part of the message. When you really want to understand what a person is saying, you need to factor in not just WHAT they say, but also HOW they say it.
5. Summarize. This is probably the best tip I found while reading up on the subject of effective listening. Learn to SUMMARIZE.
You know how when in school, we’d always listen extra well when we knew there’d be a pop quiz at the end of the class? Listen like that. Imagine that you have to summarize what was said afterwards. In fact, don’t even imagine, actually do it. Ask questions, paraphrase, clarify to make sure you got it right, and then summarize.
All this may seem like a big old hassle, but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s worth it. Listening effectively strengthens relationships, increases productivity, fosters trust and understanding, reduces conflict, and just generally makes us smarter, better, more likable people.
Listening is a gift. And by “gift” I don’t just mean a special skill or talent. It really is a GIFT that you give to other people. When you take time to really listen to what they’re saying, when you make an effort to understand them, what you’re saying is that THEY MATTER, and that their issues are important. And because everyone needs to know and feel that, it’s one of the best gifts you can ever give. - Rappler.com
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