How to Become a Better Listener: 10 Simple Tips
One social habit that I used to be quite bad at was to truly listen when other people spoke. I sometimes zoned out. I got distracted or my attention started to wander before they were done talking. Or I just waited for my turn to talk again (while thinking about what I should say next). Not very helpful. So things had to change. This week I’d like to share 10 simple tips that helped me – and still helps me – to become a better listener. I hope they will help you and your relationships too.
1. Keep in mind: Listening is win/win. Many may not listen that well because they think they don’t get much out of it personally. But the better you listen, the better they will listen to you. And the better and deeper the relationship will be. If you focus on understanding him or her and on giving value based on that then you’ll get the same thing back. This reminder has been a powerful motivator for me to become a better listener.
2. Tell yourself that you’ll tell someone else about this conversation later on. One of the best ways to remember something better is to know that you are going to tell what you learned to someone else. Then you’ll be more alert, naturally start asking more questions to understand and what is said – in my experience – simply seems to stick better. Plus, you’ll stop focusing so much on what to say next and so the conversation tends to flow better.
3. Keep the eye-contact. Looking everywhere except at the person talking can make it seem like you are not listening. And then the conversation suffers. So keep the eye-contact. I found it easier to start doing this more often when I:
- Take it step-by-small-step and improved my eye-contact time in conversations over the span of a few months.
- Focused my gaze at just one of the other person’s eyes at time.
4. Keep that smart phone away. Browsing the internet on your phone or your computer while trying to listen usually leads missing some part of the conversation and to the person talking feeling like he or she is not listened to. So put that phone down while listening if you don’t need it to check something or write something down as a part of the conversation.
5. Summarize what was said. I have found that taking a few seconds to summarize what someone just said – like a longer segment about what happened at work or in a relationship – makes it a lot easier to make sure I’ve understood what happened. As I say that summary out loud the other person can adjust or correct my understanding and so I can add my perspective, thoughts or questions in a better way based on that rather than my assumptions about what happened and of how the other person’s experienced this situation. Or I can take some kind of action based on what they actually meant and not what I thought they meant (for example in a work setting where a misunderstanding could lead to frustration and time lost if you misunderstand).
6. Ask instead of trying to mind-read. Reading someone’s mind is quite difficult. Most of the time impossible. Still, so many of us have tried to do it and started conversations based on that too many times. So when you feel impulse to assume and mind-read stop that and start being curious and ask open-ended questions. Going for this kind of question instead of the ones where the other person can just answer a yes or a no will help him/her to open up and to start explaining and sharing what is going on.
7. Get some fresh air and/or exercise. Few things make it so hard to follow along in a conversation as a tired and foggy head. Two things that can keep that energy and mental clarity up are to open a window or to take a walk outside to get both some exercise and some fresh air. Exercising regularly a bit more intensely a few times a week also makes it easier to fully be there when you want to and need to listen.
8. When you listen, just listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in with solutions (this one can be a hard one in my experience). Just be present in the moment and listen fully to what the other person has to say and let him or her speak until the entire message is said. Sometimes that is also all that’s needed. For someone to truly listen as we vent for a few minutes and figure things out for ourselves.
9. Be honest about your current limitations. If you’re in a rush or feel very tired or stressed out let the other person know. If you have listened for long while and your mind has hit its limit and starts to wander and you need a break and maybe something to eat and to process what said as you do something else say that too. It is better for the both of you to be honest and to continue the conversation later then try to fake undivided attention or to try to keep the listening up when you honestly just can’t.
10. Share what you have done in a similar situation. When asked for advice while listening or when it seems appropriate – not when the other person just needs to vent and get things out – share what you have done in the same situation or a similar one and what worked well for you. That gives a lot more weight to your input than just random advice or opinions about what you think could work.