Here’s the thing about being a person: if we want to be have good relationships, we need to be great listeners.
Another thing about being a person? We are inherently terrible at listening. Although many of us prefer to pretend otherwise, we could all stand to make some improvements.
Here are a few tips to help yourself work toward better listening and more connected relationships.
1. Refocus Frequently
Do you know how cool your brain is? The average person can comprehend about 300 words per minute. On the other hand, we tend to speak at a rate of 140 words per minute. That leaves an awful lot of free time for your mind to wander, whether you realize it or not. Make a point to pull yourself back and listen more carefully when you find your thoughts wandering from the conversation. If you are really struggling to stay focused, repeating what the speaker says in your mind can help immensely.
2. Listen Actively
Nobody likes talking to a wall. That’s why we aim our conversations toward other people instead. If the person that we are talking to is blank and unreceptive, we might as well be talking to that wall. Body language and visual responses are critical. These help the speaker feel important and confident. Nod when appropriate, react to what they say, and remember that an occasional “yup” “uh-huh” or “really?” can help the speaker feel comfortable and appreciated when talking with you.
3. Make Eye Contact
Yup, that’s right; it’s time for you to put your phone down for a second and have a real conversation. Eye contact has somehow become an extremely difficult thing for people to maintain. If keeping eye contact for more than a quick second makes you feel uncomfortable, you are certainly not alone. Remember however, that eye contact keeps you engaged in the conversation, makes you look more interested, and makes you seem confident and attentive. It can be hard at first, but work on actually looking at the person who is speaking. Little by little, you will become more comfortable holding eye contact and the speaker will feel good about your attentiveness.
4. Wait Your Turn
How anxious do you get when you have a really interesting point to add to the conversation while someone else is talking? You want them to stop talking so that you can add something (isn’t it your turn yet?). You can’t forget your super important point, right? But don’t you want your point to be heard? Because while you are busy being anxious and possibly cutting the other person off, they are still talking and not being heard at all. If what you have to say is important to you, then what they have to say is important to them. No matter how important your opinion is, try to let the other person finish talking first. Being polite and acknowledging that their words are just as important as yours makes a big difference.
5. Ask for Clarification
Don’t really understand what the other person is describing to you? Or do you just want them to feel like you are really listening well? Clarify with the speaker. When they make an important point, give directions, or ask you to do something, put what they said into your own words and repeat it back to them. This way, you both can be sure that you have a mutual understanding. People are positively horrible at conveying what they want to others. Information can get easily lost or mixed-up due to our bad communication skills. Do your best to make up for it by paraphrasing to really understand one another.
Remember, we always have room for improvement. Every conversation that we have is important, whether we are talking through problems with our spouse or just catching up with a friend. Listening is a very important skill that no person ever truly masters. Try to always show the speaker that their thoughts are important, even if you’re not interested. Making someone feel good will make you feel good too. Who knows, you might even learn something.