“Listen carefully.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? While you may consider yourself all ears, being a truly good listener is a challenging and thoughtful task that few of us do well naturally. Though it takes practice and time to develop the skills, the benefits of being a better listener are great—both for you and for those around you.
Listening effectively can improve both trust and commitment between two people. After all, “one of the most basic human needs is the need to feel witnessed,” says Ann Pardo, M.A., L.P.C., B.C.C., director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch, Tucson. Paying attention to what others are saying, and the intent behind those words, is a way of honoring an individual’s importance and looking out for their emotional wellbeing.
Bring more harmony and strength to all of your relationships by trying these techniques to become a good listener and communicator:
Focus only on the here and now—not the text message that just came in, or what you have to do after your chat. As distractions or other thoughts arise, commit to attending to them, but later. Bring patience and focus to this practice of mindful listening. Be sure to let the person you’re speaking with know that he has your full attention, both by what you say and do. For example, you may say, “I have the next hour free to speak with you,” then silence your phone and shut your door to visitors.
Try to Have an Open Mind
This is not easy, particularly during difficult conversations, but do your best to resist the temptation to respond emotionally. Make it your goal to simply take in the information rather than challenging what’s being said or “winning” the conversation. You may not agree with what someone is telling you, but listening with compassion and respect for differences in opinion may help you better comprehend what is being communicated.
Resist Jumping to the Finish Line
Many of us interject with our assumptions about where we think a talk is going. Instead of spending time anticipating what’s going to come next, focus on accepting what is being said in the moment. Remember, there is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to talk. Being a good listener means allowing the person to finish his or her narrative, then taking time to ponder what has been said before responding.
Watch Their Body Language…
Good listening also involves observing what the other person is communicating beyond words. What is he doing with his hands? Is her head held high or turned away? Is she making eye contact or avoiding it? Is his face tense or relaxed? Remember that body language makes up a whopping 55 percent of how we communicate, so the way someone is moving may tell you far more than what is spoken.
Glancing out the window or leaning back in your chair signals that you are not invested in what others have to say. You may find it helpful to pull your chair closer to the person you’re speaking with, or to physically open your body while standing. Face the other person with arms uncrossed, leaning in slightly. Not only will this wordlessly express your interest, it may help you focus better.
Choose Your Words Well
When it is time for you to contribute, be careful not to say something that minimizes the other person’s emotional experience. Avoid dismissive phrases such as, “don’t let it get to you” or “just let it go.” Voicing empathy, instead, will help solidify in their mind that you truly hear what they are saying. Try something like, “this must be hard for you.” Remember that others may be affected by issues in ways you are not. Open yourself up to better understanding where they are coming from.
Difficult conversations take time, and rushing to fill moments of silence can give the impression that you wish to speed the process. If the person you are talking to takes a moment to gather his thoughts, sit quietly until he speaks again. You may find it brings you both a better sense of clarity and shows that you are there to listen to whatever needs to be said—no matter how long it takes to say it.