“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” – Bryant McGill.
Many of us might consider ourselves to be good listeners because we pay attention to every word being said. But have you ever found yourself getting distracted, looking around, or feeling the urge to speak in the middle of a conversation? If yes, then you are perhaps not as good a listener as you think you are.
Research shows that on average, only 25 percent of what we have heard is retained by us because we are either distracted or multitasking. But why is it so important to be a good and effective listener in the first place? Because listening is the first step towards better and effective communication, and communication is the basis of any relationship in life. In order to be a good communicator, you first need to be a good listener.
Here are a few ways which can help you become an effective listener.
A good listener shows interest in having a conversation. It means you will find ways to make the speaker comfortable, so they can trust you to value their views. You will ensure there are no distractions, and that both of you are on the same page. Do not approach a conversation with an agenda or an opinion. If you form an opinion prematurely, then you stand the risk of maneuvering the conversation in a particular direction. As a good listener, you need to be interested in what the other person has to offer. Similarly, offering a suggestion or feedback can also make the other person feel more confident to interact and indulge in a healthy discussion.
Do not multitask
We are living at a time where it takes conscious and consistent effort to be a good listener, with our phones, computers, and laptops constantly competing for our attention. Most of the time, you are either busy emailing or chatting with colleagues or friends, or you are on long telephonic calls. Suppose you are on a call with the Dean of a University, where you are seeking admission. You have prepared your notes on possible questions that the dean might ask. You have chosen the quietest corner of your home, to avoid any disturbance. You also have with you a list of colleges that you are considering for admission. You get on the call with the dean and you constantly keep surfing the internet to look up the other options.
In doing so, you are not only distracted, but you are unconsciously sending negative cues to the dean. The speaker will realise that you are not listening thoroughly if there is a lag in communication from your end. Forget listening to the dean, you are likely to interrupt him while he is talking to clarify your doubts, as you have missed crucial parts of the interaction. Such practises will make you a multitasker, but a bad listener. Be present in the interaction and listen, and let other tasks wait.
Be present in the interaction and listen, and let other tasks wait.
Avoid formulating responses
When you are listening to someone, listen to them. Do not start formulating opinions inside your head. Do not judge them while they are speaking to you. When you start judging, listening takes a back seat. You start interrupting the speaker at regular intervals and that may eventually shut them down. Always await your turn before speaking. Like the founder of Peterson Partners, Joel Peterson said, “When you listen to someone with your own agenda in mind, you tend to formulate your response rather than processing what you are hearing. If you present your ideas on what is being told, it shuts the speaker down. When you are grounded and accepting in a discussion, you actually listen to what the speaker is telling, and that builds trust.”
Pay attention to your body language
In any conversation, virtual or physical, it is important to use cues so the speaker is encouraged to share their thoughts with trust. Blinking gently, eye contact, or a nod are a few gestures you can do when the speaker seeks validation in a conversation. Being idle while listening will push the speaker into isolation where they might feel alone in the interaction. A nod or a smile builds trust and tells the speaker that you understand them. However, mind your actions and distractions, because this can send negative cues to the speaker. If you lose interest in the interaction, the speaker will understand the same owing to the cues that your responses carry.
Practice activities that polish listening skills
Often, the art of listening is underestimated. Good listening requires practice. One of the best ways to do this is to practise silence every day for a few minutes. And contrary, as it may sound, ‘noise’ too, can help you become a better listener. Author Julian Treasure says, “When you are surrounded with many types of sound, try to pay attention to the types of sounds you can hear. Calculate the number of sound channels and let your mind register the directions from where it is coming and its intensity.” This activity is the best exercise to improve your quality of listening. You can even practice listening while you are on your morning walk. You can count the number of birds chirping around you. You can count the number of people you crossed paths with. These activities will train you to become a better listener.
Apart from these skills, a good listener also needs to understand other people’s feelings. Allow yourself to know and understand others’ thoughts, views, and opinions without any form of bias. By doing this, you will not only become a better listener, but also a more socially sensitive person.