A well-meaning preschool teacher may have once gently warned that “you’re not being a good listener” whenever you started not paying attention in class. As it turned out, that teacher was just trying to get you primed for adulthood.
Listening carefully could help you perform to expectations at work, minimize disagreements with friends or a significant other and set a good example for your kids, among other things. We can all probably do at least a little better when it comes to listening to others and retaining the information we hear, so the tips below should be helpful.
If you’re serious about being a better listener, you have to consciously practice deep listening. Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist from Brown University, admits listening carefully is becoming harder to do in modern society because digital devices can distract us so easily. However, he also gives encouragement by saying listening better is a highly learnable skill.
Keep yourself in check by constantly asking yourself if you listened intently during lectures, conversations, meetings and similar events. If not, think back to what happened and determine what you could have done better. Before long, you won’t need to do that exercise as often because the listening skills will start to become ingrained habits.
Give Cues That You’re Ready to Listen
Some people won’t be as open and honest with their conversations if it seems you’re displaying body language that says you’re not in the mood to listen. Something as seemingly simple as keeping your arms crossed while in a conversation may give someone the impression that you are not listening well.
Keep your arms uncrossed, stand or sit up straight and have an engaging, interested expression while leaning your body slightly towards the other person. If you’re slumped in your chair and are wearing a bored expression, the person you’re speaking with will probably think you’d rather be anywhere else, even if you don’t realize what your body language is saying.
Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Position
Truly understanding what another person is saying tends to be a lot easier when you practice empathy. Even if a person projects an image of having it all together, there’s a good chance that individual is dealing with challenges both personally and professionally.
When a person opens up to you by describing what’s going on, strive to imagine what it would be like if you were coping with the same things. This does not mean feeling sorry for the person, but merely trying to gain the perspective you’re being given through the conversation.
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Clarify to Ensure You Understand Correctly
When another person is speaking, you must listen without bias and don’t interrupt. However, when the dialogue has finished and the individual wants to know your thoughts, make sure to ask pertinent questions that can verify you understand fully.
Part of improving your listening skills and enjoying the associated lifelong benefits means engaging with the other person and asking things like, “So, what you’re saying is…” or “Just to confirm, what you need for me to do is…” and then paraphrasing what you’ve heard.
Doing this periodically should make conversations go more smoothly and avoid misunderstandings.
Don’t Agree Just to Make the Other Person Feel Better
During tough conversations, people often try to reach common ground by saying, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” Although this may seem like a way to resolve things peacefully and not offend the other person, some say it can unintentionally shut down the conversation and discourage learning.
Instead of accepting you disagree with the other person, try to keep the conversation going by saying things that convey you hear what’s being said, but don’t necessarily agree with it. Some examples include, “I see,” or “I understand why you might feel that way.” Those kinds of responses show you’re still tuned into the conversation but aren’t ready to end the dialogue yet.
Becoming a better listener is a process: You have to actively work at it by staying motivated to improve. If you stick to your goals and regularly practice the tips suggested above, you could find you’re a better listener than ever — and able to create stronger relationships at work, school and in your personal life as a result.
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