Have you ever opened up to someone and felt like they weren’t really paying attention to you?
Effective listening is a rare gift these days. Many of us are distracted by our own busy schedules, the fast-paced world around us, and the urge to check our phones.
Listening helps us build relationships and solve (or avoid) problems in our personal and professional lives. It’s an important skill to have in your toolbox, and as simple as it may seem, really listening can take some real effort.
Keep these tips in mind to be a better listener in your next conversation.
Give them your full attention
First things first: when someone’s speaking to you, your attention should be on them.
This doesn’t just mean being quiet while they’re talking. It also means using your body language to show them they have your attention and interest.
Face your body to them and maintain appropriate eye contact. Don’t fiddle or look around the room. And whatever you do, don’t look at your phone. No matter how good you are at multitasking, it’s never socially acceptable to scroll your phone while someone’s trying to talk to you!
Ask questions to show interest
Being a good listener doesn’t mean simply sitting in silence and absorbing everything the other person is saying.
Instead of being a sponge, be a trampoline! Ask relevant questions to encourage them to bounce ideas off you. This will show you’re not just listening, but you’re also interested and engaged in what they have to say.
As author Dale Carnegie says in his well-known book How to Win Friends and Influence People: “To be interesting, be interested.” Showing interest and asking questions can make you seem interesting and enjoyable to converse with – win-win!
Use silence to encourage them to keep talking
Don’t underestimate the power of silence. Sure, it might feel a little awkward at first, but you don’t have to sit still and silent like a statue. A simple nod and an encouraging smile can prompt them to dive deeper.
Avoid jumping in to fill the silences and learn to get comfortable with them. Silence can give both parties a little time to process their thoughts before continuing the conversation, making it more considered and often, a lot more meaningful.
Don’t interrupt with your own experience or ‘solutions’
No one likes a ‘one-upper’ or a ‘fixer’.
It can be a common knee-jerk reaction to compare someone’s experience to your own, or bombard them with what they ‘should’ do. But try to resist the urge to make it about you or offer solutions unless you’re asked to, or you might make them feel invalidated.
For more tips to improve communication, you might like our blog post How to Have a Difficult Conversation.