Becoming a better listener …

Do you think you are a poor listener or do others perceive you to be one? Have you ever been told that you aren’t listening? If yes, then this blog post may help you become a more engaged and active listener.

Here are five things you can do to become better at listening:

  1. Remove distractions to permit paying full attention to the conversation. Put your phone aside and stop glancing towards your laptop. For the duration of the conversation just think that the person talking to you is the most important person in the world and deserves your full attention.
  2. Use reflective listening. Active listening involves paraphrasing what the speaker said to check clarity. Reflective listening implies that you also pay attention to emotional elements and non-verbal cues. The goal is to undertand the other, not just hear her.
  3. Genuinely empathize with the speaker’s point of view — look at things from her perspective and feel what she feels about the topic at hand.
  4. Be non-judgmental — judging or arguing prematurely is a result of holding onto a strict personal opinion. Set aside your opinions and views for a bit while only hearing and understanding the person speaking. Ask her questions to understand why she is making the statement she is — what facts is she looking at, what assumptions is she making, what unspoken beliefs are influencing her reach the conclusion she is reaching. Finally, remember that the opposite of what you know is also true. So, don’t judge others by what you believe because their perspective on reality is as valid as your own. No matter how certain you are that you’re saying or doing the “right thing”, you must humbly accept the possibility that someone who says or does the exact opposite from you might actually be doing the “right thing” as well. Imposing your values and beliefs on others is a sure way of generating resistance and antagonism.
  5. Trust that you can add value after listening (rather than doing so during listening). Let the other person speak without interrupting her.

Despite your best intentions of being a good listener, there are numerous pitfalls that can sidetrack you during a conversation. Some of these are:

  • Dreaming / Drifting off
  • Rehearsing what you’ll say in response
  • Preparing for the counterattack — planning your own defense or how you’re going to cross-examine the speaker while she’s still speaking
  • Selectively hearing only what you want to hear
  • Inability to stay on the subject and constantly changing it
  • Being overly sensitive to emotional “hooks”
  • Agreeing with everything you hear just to be nice or to avoid conflict
  • Mentally tuning out when a topic seems new or too difficult
  • Referring everything you hear to your experience
  • Assessing/prematurely judging the messenger or the message
  • Interrupting constantly
  • Belittling or discounting what you hear

Pay attention to what’s going on in your mind and catch yourself if you are getting sidetracked. If you find yourself babbling or interrupting constantly, use the acronym WAIT — ask yourself, “Why Am I Talking?” Bring your attention back to the speaker, her words, her emotions. Remember, if she doesn’t feel heard it’s a good indicator that you aren’t listening.

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