Have you ever forgotten the name of a person you have recently been introduced to a few minutes after the introduction? Or has your significant other ever asked a question about what they have just said and you realize you have no idea what they've been talking about? Or have you been in a meeting when no one seems to be paying attention to the speaker, including you? The reverse frequently happens to us as well, when we’re the ones doing the talking and no one seems to be listening. Not many of us could win an award for good listening. At least not all the time. We could all use the following suggestions for becoming a better listener.
1. Listen because you are truly interested in what the person speaking has to say. Forego preconceived ideas you may have about the speaker or the subject they are speaking about. Don’t expect to be bored. Be curious and aware that you could learn something new. Learning should be your underlying motive for listening, not making a polite appearance.
2. Keep focused on the moment you are in. Be consciously aware of your surroundings and the people in them so you know when you’re being spoken to. If your mind is a million miles away on a different matter, you will be oblivious to the conversations directed to you. If something concerning is keeping your thoughts away from your present surroundings, politely remove yourself from other people, if possible, until you are able to give your attention to them.
3. Repeat back what you hear. This is particularly good for introductions. Look directly at the person you are being introduced to and greet them by name. You are far more likely to remember their name when you repeat it, and they will remember that you have called them by name. All of this makes memorable and favorable first impressions.
Additionally, in other situations, repeating back what has been said to you will clarify in your mind that you have correctly understood what has been said, and will let the speaker know that you are listening.
4. Ask good questions. This shows the speaker and anyone else involved in the conversation, meeting, or presentation that you are paying attention. It will also guarantee that you do in fact, correctly understand the viewpoints or directions of the speaker.
5. Don’t interrupt. Wait until the person is done talking before you respond. This is very important. Think about how frustrating it is when someone interrupts you while you are talking. This is when the golden rule principle should be readily applied: do to others as you want them to do to you. When we interrupt, we are really indicating that what we have to say is more important than what the other person is saying.
6. Don’t think about how you want to respond while the person is talking. Give them your full attention. Similar to #5, if we think about how we intend to answer the speaker while they are still speaking, we are not listening well. Don’t make judgement calls about what they are saying; instead ask a good question. Do not respond argumentatively or defensively, but engage with questions and observations, keeping your response respectful and kind, even if you do not agree. Responding in this manner keeps you engaged and listening rather than arguing without hearing, and will prevent unproductive confrontations.
7. Tune out distractions. How often have you noticed something about the speaker (something they are holding or what they are wearing) or some activity nearby in the area where you are conversing that takes your attention away from the speaker, and you end up not hearing anything the speaker says? Or sometimes we even cut them off to point out the distraction. Sometimes we pay more attention to the background noise than to the speaker.
Unfortunately, these situations often occur when it is a close friend, our spouse, or our children who are trying to speak to us. The closer we are in relationship to the speaker, the more we may feel they should just accept us not listening to them. Don't take your friends or family for granted--and be assured they take note when you do!
Practice, Practice, Practice
Just as with any other behavior or exercise, these listening skills must be consciously practiced on a regular basis. The more you practice, the better listener you will become. Using these skills in your workplace will allow you to produce your best. On a personal level, good listening skills will help you solidify your relationships and become a better friend, spouse, or parent. It's never too late to start to make a positive difference in your life!