I once had a professor who had opportunities to meet and work with others who were masters of their trade. He said that after working with top architects, directors, and business executives, he realized one common trait.
When you spoke, they listened. Not only did they hear, but they also listened. In my professor’s words “Whatever problem you had, became their problem. Nothing was more interesting to them than your words at that moment.”
A good listener is not only someone that people want to be around, to confide in, to trust, but someone who knows how to use listening to benefit him- or her-self. The good listener knows that a good conversation is definitely two-sided, but one learns through listening.
Here are 10 tips to be a better listener:
- Be Legitimately Interested: As mentioned above, be interested. Drop whatever you were doing and focus. Stop focusing on the email you were writing or the article you were reading and really listen. Put yourself in the speaker’s place and make his or her problems your own. The speaker will consciously or subconsciously pick up on this and you will learn more from the conversation.
- Avoid Planning Counterarguments: It is a natural response to automatically start planning a counterargument as soon as something is mentioned. As hard as it may seem, don’t. Mentally record your disagreement and formulate a response later after the whole message has been received.
- Be Honest About Your Time: If you really are in the middle of something important, tell the speaker. Apologize and plan for another meeting where you can ensure your full attention and focus. This will let the speaker know that you appreciate their coming to you and you want to give them your full concentration. It’s much better than lending half-an-ear and not listening well.
- Accept the Speaker’s Point-Of-View: At least until he or she is done speaking. Some of us have the desire to get our point across and a word in for every sentence spoken. Even if you disagree with the speaker’s stance on a subject, allow him or her to finish their thought before voicing your disagreement and then only if necessary. Remember, you are trying to be a listener, not partake in a discussion.
- Use Body Language, Eye Contact, and Repetition: Using body language and eye contact the right way can really have an impact on the speaker. To show you are listening and interested, lean slightly forward in your chair. Not so much that your elbows are on your knees, but enough so you aren’t reclined back on your chair. Make consistent eye contact, but do not stare. Make noises like “mm-hmm,” or say “I see,” and frequently repeat what was just said. These actions show that you are interested and actively listening.
- Go Beyond the Words: Good listeners are actively thinking not just about what was said but also why and how it was said. Why did this person come to you to talk (or be heard). Is there excitement in their voice? Resentment? Jealously? Once you determine the motive of the speaker, can you react more smoothly to their words.
- Get Rid of Distractions: Just by slightly closing a door or turning off your monitor you can portray to the speaker that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Focus.
- Be Aware of Your History with the Speaker: As a corollary to tip 5, think about how your history with the speaker may affect what is being said. Is there potential for flared feelings? Sympathy? Fear? Figuring this out will help you better understand the speaker’s motives and, thus, respond accordingly.
- Ask Questions: If there is something said that is not clear to you, ask for clarification. Be careful not to use questions to rebut or represent your point-of-view. Only ask questions that’ll help your understanding of what the speaker is saying.
- Watch and Learn from the “Good Listener”: We all know one or two “Good Listeners”. Next time you are speaking to them, really pay attention to what they do. One can read a ton of articles and not learn as much as they would from actively watching a good listener in action.
Being a good listener is an invaluable ability and sure to make you happier and more productive in your life. Try these tips out and good luck!