Great listeners are few and far between, it is easy and rewarding to become one of them.
Hearing what others are really trying to say is often at least as important, if not more so than getting your own message across. Remember that time when your boss asked you to complete an important project and you misunderstood a key part of it – causing it to be late or incomplete. Or, have you ever had an argument over something only to find out later that you simply misunderstood the other person’s point of view.
Help yourself to help others by becoming a good listener. It will increase your sociability and your popularity, listening is also an invaluable tool in the workplace. If you take the time to really listen you may be surprised by what you hear.
I love the saying, though I am afraid I don’t know who to attribute it to:
“You have two ears but only one mouth, which of these were you intended to use more? You do the math.”
Here are some rules for listening that I feel are vital to becoming a great listener:
- Have the intention of really hearing what the other person has to say.
Simply having the purpose of being a good listener will take you a long way towards being a good and a desired audience. In conscious communication you know what you want to communicate and you also try to be aware of the message that the other person is trying to convey.
- Face the other person squarely and give them positive body language that shows you are open to whatever it is they are saying. Uncross your arms and legs and face the other person. If you would like to see just how powerful this technique can be, try facing off at an angle the next time you get in a conversation. You don’t have to be super-obvious about it but just make that slight adjustment and see what happens. Then, change your stance and face the person head on and see how the feeling and tone of the conversation changes.
- Keep good eye contact with the other person in the exchange. A good rule of thumb is to keep eye contact for four or five seconds before looking away momentarily. If you find yourself uncomfortable looking someone else in the eye because your gaze shifts back and forth from one of their eyes to the other then simply pick one of their eyes and use that as your anchor. It is especially important to establish eye contact when you first meet someone, this shows that you are confident and that you are actively recognizing the introduction as important.
- Another aspect of body language is to lean slightly forward. As with the other rules mentioned so far the intention here is to demonstrate that what the other person is saying is important to you and that you are paying attention.
- Give facial feedback, that is, nod and show expression that is appropriate to what you are discussing. But please be aware that like all of these rules, use your common sense and use them in a way that is natural for you and unforced. You don’t want to be making “silly” faces at someone as they describe the death of a loved one or some other serious subject. There is nothing wrong with practicing in the mirror to get a feel for what other people are seeing when they speak with you.
- This rule for positive listening is one of my favorite rules because it is so powerful. Paraphrase what you are hearing or ask for clarification if there is something you don’t understand. This is the best way that I know of demonstrating to someone that you are really listening to them. It shows them that you are taking in their communication and trying to make sense of it. You can often diffuse a tense situation by restating back to someone what you hear them saying. Again, it is simply a powerful recognition that what they are saying is registering with you and that you are actively engaged and focused on what they are saying.
- Finally, take the time to move away from distractions that might cause it to be hard to hear the conversation and distance yourself from things that might cause you to lose focus. This is a clear demonstration of respect for the other person and lets them know that you are truly interested in what they have to say. I’ve had great success in using this technique with my son. It is often very difficult to talk in our home because of the amount of electronic devices: iPods, television, computers, cell phones, video games etc. It is refreshing to go into a room where there is no television and the computer and iPod have been left behind. Even though he doesn’t always want to leave his video games it shows him that I want to listen to what he has to say and that he is more important than any of these other distractions.
The rewards that come from positive listening are often surprising, in that they have more impact than you might think. It can help your personal relationships and be very beneficial in a professional setting. Confrontational situations can become more manageable. I believe that being an active listener will really set you apart from the crowd because it is such a rare skill.