Listening is one of the most powerful tools in great communication. Whether you are listening to the people around you or listening via content presented online, understanding the thoughts of the people we want to communicate with us requires intentional, active receiving of what they are sharing.
Most people believe that they are good listeners. But, they are not. Here are five things to consider as you evaluate how well you listen and what you can do to improve.
You can’t listen when you talk. Seems basic enough, but we too often focus on what we want to say and forget to listen to what is being shared. You shouldn’t be talking – out loud or in your head – when you are listening. Not only does thinking about what you’re going to say next take your attention away from listening, dominating the conversation does not help anyone to feel heard.
Listening is a single string activity. You can’t multitask and be a good listener. Put away your phone, look away from the computer. Clear your mind of any thoughts other than processing what the person is saying to you. You hear much more when you immerse yourself in the conversation.
Speak judiciously and thoughtfully. In balance, you should be silent more than you speak, but people do like to know you’re listening. Good questions and paraphrases that maintain the focus of the conversation are great ways to affirm the person who is speaking and enhance your understanding. A relevant question shows that you are connecting with the conversation. Use questions to confirm what you’ve heard and seek more information. When you restate the meaning of what’s said, you give the speaker the opportunity to confirm and clarify.
Keep an open mind. No one wants to have a conversation with someone who has already formed an unmovable opinion; that’s not the foundation for a conversation. Every conversation is an opportunity to understand a new perspective. You don’t have to agree with everything, but to listen you need to put aside any judgement so you can understand what is being said.
Listen with more than your ears. Your posture, gestures, expression, and tone of voice are also part of listening. Cues to your openness and focus will enhance any exchange. Let people see that you are focused and open to the conversation – that you are a good listener.