Unless you are a naturally world-class listener, you’d probably have had experiences where people caught your mind wandering off while you were supposed to be in an engaged conversation.
You might make a joke out of it or dismiss it as nothing.
But imagine how you would feel if you were sharing some deep emotional stuff or critical business information and the people who were supposed to be attentive were not listening.
We are all naturally inclined to “want to be heard” whenever we are talking. The tough part is that the mind tends to drift off whenever someone talks for more than 14 seconds.
Being a good listener can really put you on top of someone’s list of people he likes. And depending on what type of relationship you have with that person, it could mean a lot of good things going your way when you have been tagged as a good listener.
The irony is that you don’t really have to be a good listener in order to reap the rewards of being one. You can also pretend to be one and get the same results.
Here are some tips you can use to train yourself into a better listener or at least be perceived as one.
1) Make a commitment
Granted. Important discussions and casual conversations that require you to really listen does not happen all the time. But when a time comes where you know that you have to get in gear, make a mental commitment to listen.
While we are incapable of giving interactions total focus all the time, we can DECIDE which conversations to activate the attention switch.
Don’t get distracted by anything around you and attempt to give 100% focus.
Imagine if your smartphone suffered a hardware problem and you decided to get the spare part and replace it yourself. You would undoubtedly give your phone surgery 100% attention and focus while doing the task.
If you are able to do that, you can do the same with listening.
2) Look the part
There are some instinctive reactions people make when truly listening. You can copy these behavior to at least make it appear like you are listening.
The talking party would absolutely love it 😀
- Raise eyebrows
- Use affirmations like “Yes”, “Alright”, “Go on”, etc
3) Offer feedback
Giving feedback as a response is one of the most effective techniques to ensure the speaker feels listened to.
How else would you be able to do that unless you were listening?
3 types of feedback are known to be able to achieve this effect.
- Practice empathy
- Repeat the last sentence as a question
Let’s use this sentence as one said by the speaker, and use examples of all 3 ways to respond.
“It’s 9pm and I can’t believe that I’m still in the office! This job is shit!”
- Empathy: Wow I would be livid if I was still working at 9pm.
- Paraphrasing: Still in the office at this time. That’s a demanding job.
- Repeat: 9pm and you are still in the office?
Giving feedback don’t just enable a speaker to feel listened to, it also encourages him or her to talk more and elaborate on the topic. This why listening skills is a key trait of great negotiators.
4) Never talk over the speaker
Interrupting and talker over someone else can be a useful tactic in school debates and fierce negotiations. But it is never a good thing to do when you want to the other party to find you as a good listener.
I understand that sometimes, a comeback has to be inserted into a conversation in order to achieve the best desired effect. So you need to make a judgment call on this one.
If in doubt, let the speaker finish before your comeback or rebuttal.
Sometimes a speaker is building a story towards a climax. And with your interruption, he is unable to tell a story the way he wanted to. This can leave him feeling disappointed that what he spent hours rehearsing fail to come to fruition.
And you never know.
Maybe if you had allowed him to finish, you would not have made a comment that made you look stupid.
Becoming a good listener can take time. You need time and practice to hone your listening skills.
So don’t put the burden of instant success on your shoulders. That’s just brewing stress and anxiety.
Practice listening with the people around you.
- Close friends
- Family members
Other than these sources, try listening when watching TV or when listening to the radio.
Listening is one of the most underrated soft skills.
For example, in many critical negotiations, it is seldom about how well you articulate. But more about how well you are listening to what the other party is ACTUALLY saying.
This is such a essential and yet ignored skill, that you might be able to get a competitive edge over a lot of people when you learn how to harness it.
So do make mastering it a goal in both life and career.