“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
― The Dalai Lama
Communication is more crucial than ever in today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress society, but we seem to spend less and less time genuinely listening to one another. Genuine listening has become a precious commodity—a gift of time.
Good listening aids in the development of relationships, the resolution of difficulties, the assurance of understanding, the resolution of conflicts, and the improvement of accuracy. Effective listening at work means fewer mistakes and less time wasted.
It aids in the development of resourceful, self-reliant children who can solve their own difficulties at home. Friendships and careers are strengthened by listening. It helps to save both money and marriages.
Here are ten steps to help you improve your listening abilities. And yes, just as the Dalai Lama says, if you are better listener you’ll also become a better learner.
Step 1: Maintain eye contact with the speaker.
It’s like trying to hit a moving target while talking to someone who is scanning the room, studying a computer screen, or gazing out the window. How much of the other person’s divided attention do you get? Fifty percent of the time? 5% of the total? “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” you could insist if the person were your child, but that’s not something we say to a spouse, friend, or coworker.
Eye contact is considered a necessary component of effective communication in most Western cultures. We communicate by looking one other in the eyes. That isn’t to say you can’t have a conversation from across the room or from another room; nevertheless, if the conversation goes on for too long, you (or the other person) will get up and move. You get together because you want to improve your communication.
Make the courteous gesture of turning to face your conversational partners. Clear all papers, books, phones, and other potential distractions. Even if they don’t look at you, look at them. Under certain circumstances, shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt, or other emotions, as well as cultural taboos, can prevent some people from making eye contact. Please excuse the other guy, but you must maintain your attention.
Step 2: Pay attention while being relaxed.
Relax now that you’ve made eye contact. You don’t have to lock your gaze on the other person. You can look away now and then and go about your business as usual. What matters is that you pay attention.
Distracting factors such as background noise and activity should be mentally blocked out. Additionally, avoid focusing too much on the speaker’s accent or speaking habits, as they might become distracting. Finally, don’t let your personal thoughts, feelings, or biases get in the way.
Step 3: Maintain an open mindset.
Listen without passing judgment on the other person or mentally critiquing what she says. If what she says makes you uncomfortable, feel free to be concerned, but don’t think to yourself, “Well, that was a bad move.” You’ve undermined your usefulness as a listener as soon as you engage in judgmental musings.
Listen without making snap judgments. Keep in mind that the speaker is using words to express her inner ideas and feelings. You have no idea what those sentiments and thoughts are, and the only way to find out is to listen.
Step 4: Pay attention to the speaker’s words and try to picture what he or she is saying.
Allow your mind to construct a mental representation of the information you’re hearing. If you stay concentrated and your senses are fully aware, your brain will accomplish the task, whether it’s a literal picture or an arrangement of abstract thoughts. Concentrate on and remember crucial words and phrases when listening for long periods of time.
When it’s your turn to listen, don’t waste time thinking about what you’re going to say next. It’s impossible to rehearse and listen at the same time. Concentrate solely on what the other person is saying.
Finally, pay attention to what is being said, even if it seems boring. If your thoughts start to wander, urge yourself to refocus right away.
Step 5: Don’t interrupt or force your “solutions” on others.
It was once taught to children that interrupting is impolite. That message isn’t getting through to us anymore. The majority of talk shows and reality programmes model loud, confrontational, in-your-face conduct, which is tolerated, if not encouraged.
Interrupting sends a number of different messages. It says:
- “I’m more important than you.”
“I have something more interesting, correct, or relevant to say.”
“It doesn’t matter to me what you think.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for your viewpoint.”
“This isn’t a discussion; it’s a competition, and I’ll win.”
Each of us thinks and speaks at a different pace. If you’re a quick thinker and talker, it’s up to you to slow down for the slower, more thoughtful communicator—or for the guy who struggles to articulate himself.
If you’re listening to someone talk about an issue, don’t offer any remedies. Most of us don’t want your counsel in the first place. We’ll ask for it if we need it. The majority of us prefer to come up with our own solutions. We need you to pay attention and assist us in our endeavor. If you have an incredibly amazing answer somewhere down the line, at the very least ask the speaker’s consent. “Would you like to hear my ideas?” you can inquire.
Step 6: Wait for the speaker to take a breath and ask a follow-up question.
Of course, if you don’t understand something, you should ask the speaker to clarify it for you. Wait till the speaker stops before interrupting. Then say something along the lines of, “Take a step back for a moment. What you just said about… I didn’t understand.”
Step 7: Only ask questions to check comprehension.
At lunch, a coworker is enthusiastically recounting her trip to her hometown and all the lovely things she saw and did. She mentions spending time with a common acquaintance during the duration of this account. You jump right in “I haven’t heard from Alice in a long time. How is she doing? ” and then the conversation changes to Alice’s divorce and the poor kids, which leads to a comparison of custody rules, and before you know it, an hour has passed and the hometown trip has faded away.
This type of conversational affront occurs frequently. People are led in directions that have nothing to do with where they believed they were headed by our queries. We occasionally return to the initial topic, but this is not always the case.
When you recognize that your question has lead the speaker off track, take responsibility for bringing the conversation back on track by saying something like, “It was nice to hear about Alice, but tell me more about your vacation.”
Step 8: Try to empathize with the speaker.
If you feel sad when the person you’re talking to expresses sadness, happy when she expresses happiness, and afraid when she discloses her anxieties, and you portray those sentiments through your facial expressions and words, you’ll be a good listener. Empathy is at the heart of effective listening.
To have empathy, you must put yourself in the shoes of the other person and allow yourself to feel what it’s like to be her at that particular moment. This is not a simple task to accomplish. It necessitates a lot of effort and focus. It is, nevertheless, a thoughtful and helpful gesture that encourages dialogue like nothing else.
Step 9: Provide regular feedback to the speaker.
Reflect the speaker’s feelings to show that you understand where they’re coming from. “I’m sure you’re ecstatic!” “You’ve been through a hellish ordeal.” “I can tell you’re perplexed.” If the speaker’s emotions are veiled or unclear, it is sometimes necessary to paraphrase the message’s content. Alternatively, simply nod and indicate your understanding with suitable facial expressions and a well-timed “hmmm” or “uh huh.”
The goal is to demonstrate to the speaker that you are paying attention and following her line of thought, rather than off daydreaming as she speaks to the ether.
Always clarify instructions and messages in task settings, whether at work or at home, to ensure that you comprehend them correctly.
Step 10: Pay attention to nonverbal cues—what isn’t expressed.
If you don’t count email, nonverbal communication makes up the majority of direct communication. Without saying anything, we gather a lot of information about one other. Even over the phone, the tone and cadence of a person’s voice can reveal almost as much about them as what they say. When I speak with my best friend, it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about; if I hear a lilt and laughter in her voice, I know she’s in good health.
When you’re face to face with someone, the expression around the eyes, the set of the mouth, and the slope of the shoulders can swiftly reveal enthusiasm, boredom, or displeasure. You can’t ignore these hints. Remember that words only transmit a portion of the information when you’re listening.