Listening is an art.
There is a big difference between hearing and listening. You hear a bus zoom by. You listen for the sound of the ice cream truck.
Listening is active- you are doing something, paying attention, giving thought. You are actually searching for the deeper message behind the words. The better a listener you are, the more people will share with you. The more they share, the more they feel important to you, and the better your relationship will be.
Unfortunately though, many people find that in conversations, their listening becomes passive. They hear the words but they aren’t paying attention to the deeper meaning behind them. As a result they often miss a huge opportunity to improve the quality of their relationships and communication.
If you are interested in being the kind of person people want to talk to, and feel confident in your ability to handle any type of communication, the first thing to do is learn how to listen effectively. Here’s how:
- Become present– Now take a deep breath and imagine the air going all the way down to your toes. You can even wiggle your toes if you want. This will only take a second or two, but it will instantly wash away all the distracting thoughts going through your mind. Focus your attention on the person speaking. You should notice a huge difference in how calm and present you feel.
- Position yourself for optimal attention– Now, use body language as an asset. Look at the person speaking. Position yourself so that you are facing them fully. If your arms are crossed, open them up. Crossed arms are a sign of being closed. So open your arms, and think in your head, “I am open to hearing you now.” Again, all this happens in seconds and the person speaking to you likely won’t notice a thing. But doing these simple things will instantly upgrade the quality of your listening.
- Give feedback– While mostly listening will be done in silence, there is still plenty you can do with nonverbal feedback to show the person speaking just how engaged you are. Nodding or shaking your head, looking surprised or sympathetic etc. are all nonverbal feedback that show that you understand.
- Ask Clarifying Questions– Clarifying Questions are designed to encourage the person speaking to go deeper and share more. Examples of Clarifying Questions are: “what do you mean by…..” , “can you tell me more about that?” and “How did that feel for you?”. These questions all make the person speaking feel like you really care and are open to hearing more.
- Make space for more– It’s tempting to jump in and take your turn to talk as soon as you can. But many times a person will finish a thought, and if they are given a few seconds of silence, they will gather their thoughts again and have more to say. This is a good thing- they feel safe, and have the time and space to look deeper inside themselves and share what they find. But if you find that the desire to jump in and ruin that opportunity is preventing you from being an awesome listener, try this little hack- when it looks like the person talking has finished, take a deep breath and count to 20 in your mind. Keep a relaxed, open posture, look at them fully, and breath comfortably. And don’t say anything until you’ve reached 20!! Essentially, you are communicating: “I’m still here, and I am open to hearing more.” The results are likely to astound you. Before you know it, they will open up again and share a whole deeper level of themselves with you.
- And most, most importantly: Seek to understand– You don’t have to agree with what is being said. For at least a few minutes, commit to just trying to understand. By eliminating confrontation, or the need to justify yourself, you will be open to fully listening.
This last rule- seek to understand- is more than just a hack to great listening- it’s actually, in my opinion, the purpose of great listening. Everyone, with no exceptions, wants to be understood more than anything else. By giving them the gift of being heard and understood (even if you still have a different opinion!), you have opened channels of communication that were not there before.
Next conversation you have, try these tips, and let me know how it went in the comments below.
I bet you won’t believe just how well it went 😉