There's a lot to lose as a poor listener. Tuning out when others are talking is ultimately unsatisfying and can seriously undermine important relationships.
I am the fourth child in a family of six. As a typical middle child of a big family I grew up mostly wanting to be listened to – not so much to listen.
In the past few years I have been consciously trying to cultivate the art of being a better listener.
Active listening is a communication technique widely used in counselling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires you to fully concentrate, understand, respond and finally remember what is being said.
Here are four tips to help you practice active listening. They're simple concepts, but some are harder to put in practice than we might realise.
1. BE IN THE MOMENT
Have you ever been speaking to someone and found that they are distracted by something and not really listening to you? You probably thought this was annoying and frustrating. I might even have felt a bit disrespectful. At that point you may have become angry or shut the conversation down.
When someone is speaking it is really important to be present and in the moment with them. If something else is on your mind, like a call you have to make, or an email text you need to send, it might be better to stop the conversation, let them know, do what you need to do, and when you are finished let them know you are ready to listen with your full attention.
When listening aim to notice not only to the words but the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. This provides information that will be as important as the words themselves.
Try to remember that you will not share this same moment with this person ever again.
2. STOP TRYING TO BE HELPFUL
Often when people are talking to us we are thinking of how we are might reply to them. Thinking about how you might be helpful may seem like a good thing to do, but it's counter-productive in that it interferes with the listening process. You end up thinking about how to solve what you perceive the other person’s problem seems to be, but in the process you miss what the speaker is actually saying.
It’s also quite an annoying habit. As my teenage daughter said to me the other day, "When I tell you stuff I don't always want you to give me advice."
Instead, try to focus completely on what the person is saying. You’ll find it gets much easier to focus on their words when you aren’t thinking about how you will respond.
Remember they may not want you to give them a solution – just to listen.
3. DON"T BUTT IN
You might think you already know what the speaker wants to say, before they finish saying it. So you might then butt in or try to complete their sentence.
I find this really quite hard not to do. Especially if it's a topic I have some ideas about or some interest in.
The trouble is, by interrupting the speaker before they have finished, you're essentially saying that you don't value what they are saying.
Showing respect to the speaker is a crucial element of good listening.
Both parties can relax a little if they can finish what they have to say without being interrupted.
4. PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
Whether you agree with the speaker or even have an interest in what they have to say, what they are saying is important to them. Imagine yourself in their situation, wanting only to have someone listen to them. When they are speaking, make an effort to think of where they are coming from and why. Try to imagine what their life is like and what struggles they might be facing.
Cultivate the art of better listening and people will appreciate that you made the effort to understand and really hear them.
There’s no guarantee – but the better you listen, the better they may also listen to you when it’s your turn to talk.