6 Tips To Becoming A Better Listener
Updated: Jan 26, 2020
How often have you wanted someone to just listen? With no agenda. Without directing the conversation or offering unsolicited advice, interjecting or making the conversation about them. Literally, JUST LISTEN. And how often have you had that experience? For many of us, I'm guessing not very often.
Listening may seem simple but it's actually not, especially in this technology-saturated time. That's why it's hard for so many people and why it might be difficult to remember a time when you were actually really listened to. If you want to be in relationship with others, whether with friends, family, partners, co-workers or just about anyone, listening is an invaluable skill. Here are 6 tips to help you become a better listener:
1) Slow Down
In today's fast-pace world, slowing down is not easy. From the moment our alarms go off, we are rushing everywhere - to work, to school, to the gym, to meetings - in order to adhere to our packed schedules. Technology doesn't make it any easier. Scrolling through Facebook posts, Instagram feeds, and article upon article, we are constantly overstimulated. We feed off this anxiety because it makes us feel more "productive." In this endless cycle of urgency and information overload, slowing down can seem counter-intuitive. But it is in this slowing down that we are able to really hear one another and develop relationships.
2) Let Go of Distractions
Did I leave the iron on? What am I gonna have for lunch? I need to pickup the dry-cleaning later. If these things are popping up in your head while someone is talking, chances are you're not taking them in completely. Even having your phone out can be a distraction because it is a reminder of all the other people you could be communicating with or things you could be doing. If we're distracted, we're not giving our full attention to the speaker, which means we're not fully listening. Try putting your phone away.
Eye contact is a good way to hold your attentiveness and reduce external stimuli. Of course, there's still the internal chatter that can be a roadblock. Gently put the distracting thoughts away and remind yourself that someone in front of you wants your attention.
3) Let Go of the Need to Fix
This one can be tricky. Sometimes, rather than just listening to our friend, partner or loved-one talk about their struggles, we may feel an urge to offer advice. This may not necessarily be what they want. Don't get me wrong. There are times when offering solutions is appropriate and what your friend, partner, or loved one is seeking. (If you're not sure what the speaker needs, just ask! "Are you looking for advice? Do you want me to just listen? What would be helpful?") But in many vulnerable circumstances, this is not as helpful as you may think. Being attached to fixing the situation is yet another distraction. We're caught up in the end result and preoccupied with what could happen in the future. And if we're in the future, that means we're not present. And if we're not present, we're not really listening.
4) Be Observant
There's so much happening when someone is sharing and most of it is actually nonverbal.
Notice their tone. What are they communicating through their tone? Is their voice quivering? Are they loud and passionate? Are they timid and unsure? What are their eyes saying? Is there sadness there? Excitement? A sense of defeat? Notice their posture. Are they deflated and small? Confident and upright? Relaxed? Tense? Are they fidgeting or restless? There is a potential message in every one of these nonverbal cues that can reveal a lot about what is happening for them and what it's like to share with you. You don't have to get caught up in interpreting all these things but rather, it can be helpful to notice all the ways in which the speaker is communicating with you.
5) Be Curious
Asking questions can help draw the speaker out. It shows that you are engaged and following, while also communicating your interest to learn more. But be careful! It can easily take a turn and be experienced as an effort to lead the conversation in a certain direction. Be mindful of your questions, keep them open-ended, e.g. "What was that like for you?", and allow the speaker the freedom to lead.
6) Respond and Reflect Back
Imagine what it's like to be in their shoes and what they might be feeling. A simple statement like "That sounds so frustrating" or "That sounds really hard" can go a long way to make someone feel seen and heard. Even a silent nod or a patient "Mhmm" has the potential to feel affirming.
Of course, there are different contexts where some of these tips may be more appropriate than others. For example, if you're listening for work purposes, it may actually be necessary to have your laptop out to take notes and less possible to sustain eye contact. In this same situation, it might even be expected of you to come up with solutions. Depending on your context, take what works and leave the rest. Happy Listening!