What does good listening sound like?
That’s right – nothing. But how can the sound of nothing be so important? Well, because communication makes up more than 70% of our day, with about 55% of that time devoted to listening. So, isn’t it time we tweak this skill?
Good listening starts with being quiet. That means giving a speaker your full attention and resisting the urge to fill empty silences with small talk. In other words, good listening gives you the chance to reflect on what’s actually being said.
Being a good listener isn’t just a sign of respect for a speaker. It holds tons of benefits. For starters, listening lets you better understand a message and formulate a thoughtful response when it’s time to reply. It also improves relationships, enhances productivity and demonstrates empathy. At the end of the day, these benefits reduce conflict and confusion – two very avoidable pitfalls of poor listening.
So, sit back and listen to some easy tips that will help you become a better communicator by first becoming a better listener.
The first step: get comfortable. Find a physical position that allows you to be fully engaged with the speaker. Be aware of your posture, because body language can say a lot. It says so much, in fact, that roughly 90% of what we convey isn’t even in our actual words – it’s in things like our facial expressions and tone of voice. So, avoid crossing your arms or making a funny face; instead, try an open posture, such as leaning in slightly, or resting your hands comfortably on a chair’s arms. If it’s culturally acceptable, make eye contact. Using minor verbal acknowledgements or nodding your head are both great ways to let the speaker know you’re listening and understand their message.
Next, stop anticipating what someone wants to say. Keep an open mind. When we’re engaged in conversation, we often start formulating our response before the speaker even completes their sentence. Sometimes, we verbally personalize their message based on our own feelings and experiences. While this might help us find some common ground with the other person, it could actually rob us of a chance to truly connect and understand what they’re feeling. Try to step out of your shoes and into another pair – making the effort to actually imagine something someone is saying rather than thinking about how to verbally respond means you’ll start remembering a whole lot more of what’s being said. Don’t believe me? Then imagine a triangle. Easy, right? Now imagine someone explaining to you what a triangle is. What are you going to remember, the image of the triangle or its definition? This is because words live in our short-term memories, while images stick with us for the long-run.
Our thoughts flow at an amazingly rapid rate – anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute! But when it comes to listening, we’re not so swift. Most of us can only digest about 125 to 250 words per minute when we’re listening. All the more reason to give a speaker our full attention, right? So, remember to stay present. If the speaker asks for input, provide it. If there’s a lull in the conversation, don’t feel like you have to speak or make small talk to fill the silence. Sometimes the best response isn’t even a verbal one. Think about it – what’s better, speaking for the sake of it or actually connecting with another person by letting yourself be mindful and in the moment?
If you do have to respond, don’t be judgemental or critical. Show the speaker you were listening by repeating what they just said. We hear a lot of information every day, but many of us remember less than 25% of it. So, echoing someone’s words not only confirms you heard them accurately, but it encourages them to reflect on their message and either rephrase or validate it.
Finally, ask the speaker what they expect from you. If they’re not looking for a solution, don’t offer one. Good listening isn’t about providing answers, it’s about letting the other person know they’ve been understood. A listener’s role can be as simple as helping the speaker feel comfortable during and after a conversation, and giving them a chance to find their own answers
Now it’s time to put your listening skills to the test. Over the next few weeks, try out some of these tips. If it makes you feel more comfortable, let people know you’re working on your listening skills and ask them for feedback. When others know you’re working to improve, they’ll be glad to help. And you never know, you might even inspire them to become better listeners too. See? You’re already ahead of the game.
Thanks for listening.