One of life’s great challenges is to listen well and as such, it is the most important communication skill. Often, we are tempted to think about what our next response will be rather than to listen. Or, we believe we already know what the other person is going to say, so we simply interrupt them or just wait impatiently for our turn. Listening, truly listening, with complete focus, is a key skill and one of the most important compliments we can give another human being. I also is the basis for developing and maintaining the important long-lasting relationships in all aspects of our lives.
Here are 10 ways to make sure you are actively listening:
- Stop talking! It is pretty much impossible to listen and speak at the same time, so if you are really going to listen you need to stop talking.
- Put the other person at ease. Give them the space, time, and “permission” to speak their piece. How we look at them, how we stand or sit, makes a huge difference. Relax, and let them relax as well as it will make it easier for them to tell you what is on their mind.
- Show the other person that you want to hear them. Make eye contact, nod when you can agree, ask them to explain further if you do not understand. Listen carefully to them and their words, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak and in the meantime formulating what you will say next.
- Remove distractions. Good listening means being willing to turn off the TV, close a door, turn off your phone, or stop reading your mail or newspaper. Give the speaker your full attention, and let them know that you are truly focusing on what they have to say.
- Empathize with the other person. When someone is telling you something personal, painful, or something with you which intensely disagree, take a moment to stand in their shoes, try to look at the situation from their point of view and be more empathetic, because you might actually learn something you did not know or understand.
- Be patient. Some people take longer to find the right words, to make a point or clarify an issue. Give the speaker time to get it all out before you jump in with your comments or suggestions.
- Watch your own emotions. If what they are saying creates an emotional response in you, be extra certain to listen carefully, with attention to the intent and full meaning of their words. When we are angry, frightened, or upset, we often miss critical parts of what is being said to us.
- Be very slow to disagree, criticize, or argue. Even if you disagree, let them be able to express their point of view. If you respond in a way which makes the other person defensive, even if you “win” the argument, you may lose something far more valuable! Remember, they are entitled to their opinion and again, if you truly listen you may learn something new from their perspective.
- Ask lots of questions. Ask the speaker to clarify, to say more, give an example, or explain further. It will help them to speak more precisely and it will help you to hear and understand them more accurately.
- Stop Talking! This is both the first and the last point because all other tools depend on it. Remember, you cannot listen and speak at the same time.
Nature gave us two ears and only one tongue, which is a gentle hint that we should listen twice as much as we speak!