Do you want to master the art of listening? If you tend to zone out when someone’s talking, or you notice that people don’t often choose you as a confidant, it’s time to start practicing this skill. Taking an active, engaged approach to listening will improve your relationships and enrich your experience of the world. If you want to learn how to listen with undivided attention and respond in a way that keeps people talking, keep reading.
Remove distractions. The first thing you should do when someone starts talking is to put away anything that might distract you from his or her words. Turn off the television, close your laptop and put down anything else you are reading or doing. It’s very difficult to hear and understand what someone is saying when you are surrounded by other sounds or activities vying for your attention.
- Whether the conversation you are having is over the phone or in person, it can help to move to a room that is free from distractions. Go to a place where you won’t be interrupted by other people.
Many people find it easier to have deep conversations outdoors, where there are fewer distracting screens and gadgets. Try going for a walk in the park or in your neighborhood.
Stay focused. When the other person speaks, focus on what they are saying. Don’t let your mind jump ahead to what you think you should say in reply. Watch the person’s face, eyes and body.What is the other person really trying to say?
- Part of staying focused and really listening involves interpreting a person’s silences and noticing his or her body language, too. These nonverbal ways of communicating are just as important as words.
Be unselfconscious. Many find it hard to concentrate during conversations because they feel self conscious about how they appear to the other person. It may help to know that if someone is speaking their mind to you, it isn’t likely that they’re judging you at the same time. The speaker is grateful that you’re lending a listening ear. Part of being a good listener is having the ability to stop thinking about yourself during the conversation. If you’re busy thinking about your own insecurities or needs, you aren’t paying attention to what the other person is saying.
Be empathetic. Another key to listening is being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If someone is confiding in you about his or her troubles, step outside yourself and imagine what it’s like to be him or her. True communication happens when people understand each other. Find common ground with the person who is speaking and do your best to see things from his or her point of view.
Become a better hearer. You’re probably heard it said that there’s a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a the physical act of sensing sounds, while listening is the ability to interpret those sounds as a way to understand the world and other people. The nuances in what you hear should inform the conclusions you make as a listener. For example, a person’s tone of voice can indicate whether he is she is joyful, depressed, angry or scared. Ultimately, honing your sense of hearing will make you a better listener.
- Work on your sense of hearing by paying more attention to sounds. When was the last time you closed your eyes and let your sense of hearing take the wheel? Stop once in a while and just listen to your surroundings so you can better appreciate the knowledge that can be gained by hearing.
Listen to music more carefully. We are so used to having music in the background now that we don’t often make it the sole focus. Close your eyes and really listen to an entire song or album. Try to pick out individual sounds. If many elements are present, such as in symphonic music, try listening to a single instrument as it travels through the flow of the entire orchestra.
Lean forward a little. This simple body language indicates to the person speaking that you are interested in hearing more. Your body should be facing the person who is talking, and your torso should be at a slight forward angle. The lean doesn’t have to be over pronounced to be effective.
Make eye contact, but not too much. Making eye contact during a conversation also indicates that the person to whom you’re listening has your undivided attention. Eye contact is a very important way to establish open lines of communication. However, you don’t want to sustain eye contact for a prolonged period of time, because that can make the person speaking feel uncomfortable.
- Research shows that during one-on-one conversations, most people make 7-10 seconds of eye contact before looking away.
Nod in acknowledgement. Nodding your head is another effective way of showing people you’re talking to that you’re right their with them. You can nod in agreement or as a way of nudging the person to say more. Just make sure you nod during appropriate points in the conversation; if you nod when someone tells you something disagreeable, they may feel you aren’t really listening.
- You can also encourage the person to keep going with short verbal comments, like “yes,” “I see,” or “uh huh.”
Don’t fidget or slouch. Make sure your body language conveys interest, not boredom. If you’re busy picking your nails, tapping your feet, crossing your arms or leaning your head on your hand, most people will end the conversation quickly so as not to bore you out of your mind. Sit up straight to show that you’re engaged in the conversation.
- If you are disabled and need to fidget in order to listen, find discreet ways to do so, such as wiggling a foot or squeezing a stress ball with your hand resting on the table. If it’s not right in front of their face, they probably won’t mind. If your conversation partner mentions it, explain that this helps you listen, and ask them to continue.
Use appropriate facial expressions. Remember that listening is active, not passive. It’s important to react to people’s words – otherwise, they may as well be writing in their journals. Show you’re interested by smiling, laughing, frowning, shaking your head, an making other expressions and gestures that are right for the moment.
Don’t interrupt. It’s rude to interrupt someone while they’re talking, because it shows that you aren’t really listening – you’re too eager to make sure your own two cents are heard. If you tend to jump in with your opinion before the other person has finished speaking, make a point of quitting your habit of interrupting. Wait until a person has finished his or her thought before you speak.
- If you do interrupt (everyone does it from time to time), it’s a good idea to apologize and ask the person to please continue what he or she was saying.
Ask questions. Keep other people talking by asking questions that indicate you’ve been listening and would like to know more. You can ask a simple leading question, like “What happened next?” Or something specific to the topic at hand. Chiming in with phrases like “I agree!” and “Me, too” can also help to move the conversation along.
- You can repeat what someone is telling you as a way to clarify his or her point
- It’s up to you to decide how personal your questions should be. If your questions are interpreted as crossing a line, the conversation will quickly shut down.
- Don’t be critical. Be open to understanding the other person’s point of view, even if you’re discussing a subject upon which you disagree. Criticizing the person for saying something you found inadequate or silly is a sure way to keep the person from confiding in you again. A good listener stays as nonjudgmental as possible. If you have a counterargument, wait until the person is finished making his or her point before stating it.
- Have an honest response. When it’s your turn to speak, respond honestly and openly – but always politely. Offer advice if the person requested it. If you want the relationship to grow, and you trust the person to whom you’re talking, be willing to share your own opinions and feelings in return. Contributing something of yourself to the conversation brings the act of listening full circle.