Have you ever been talking to someone and then halfway through you realise that you are completely zoned out? Or even worse, has someone ever asked you a question, and then you laugh in response because you didn’t hear the question, and then the person is waiting for an answer, and you embarrassingly ask them to repeat what they said? It’s the most embarrassing thing.
I realised that I tend to zone out of negative conversations. Whenever I realise that someone is complaining too much or exuding negative energy I tend to just shut off. In this sense, it’s a coping mechanism because I believe strongly that energy is transferrable. If someone is constantly complaining and you hang around them for too long you start to develop these traits as well.
You may be wondering what the big deal is. What’s so important about listening to people? Well, communication is the basis of all relationships. Effective communication can make you an effective leader and success can come much easier. Listening is a very important component of communication, if not the most important. Being a good listener teaches you to empathise with people and thereby enhancing relationships. At the workplace, good listening can help us to establish a good image and separate us from average contributors. It shows maturity and respect for the speaker.
Here’s how to become a better listener.
- Quiet your agenda
There’s nothing more irritating than a relationship where every time you are telling someone something they are quick to jump into a “Me too” situation. Some people just have it in them.
It’s even more irritating when they interrupt what you were trying to say. Whenever it happens it shows that the entire time they have been listening to you and trying to fit themselves in your scenario. This is a bad listening habit. Do not listen with the intent to respond, listen to understand. If you want to become a better listener you must learn to quiet your agenda and empathise with the other person wholly. If you must explain something similar that happened to you at least wait until the other person is done talking. In most cases, you will realise that your scenarios aren’t really the same.
- Ask more questions
If you want to be a better listener it is important to ask the person questions. It shows that you are paying attention and that you’re interested in what the other person is saying. Asking questions instils trust as well as creating a safe space for people to open up to you. In other words, it shows empathy. I guess that’s why some psychologists are able to form such open relationships with their clients. They ask more questions and listen more than they talk. If you want to be a better listener you might want to cultivate this habit.
- Pay attention to your non-verbal cues
You might think that you are actively listening but as long as your non-verbal cues are expressing something different then you will not get anywhere. You do not just listen with your ears, you listen with your entire body, and that’s why you must also pay attention to your non-verbal cues. This includes making eye contact, not fidgeting, nodding your head in affirmation, and leaning forward. That way your body is in tune with what you are actually doing. It will help you to pay more attention. On top of this, you have to avoid distractions. You can’t be checking your phone every minute when someone is actually trying to have an honest conversation with you. It shows a lack of respect and is a characteristic of a bad listener.
- Pay attention to your listening/talk ratio
I’m sure you’ve interacted with people who just don’t let you talk. They have never-ending things to say about themselves and their experiences. It’s quite irritating actually because everyone wants to be heard.
I went on a date with this guy once and all through our one and a half-hour meet up he was talking about himself, one story after another. He talked about his childhood, his experiences, his parents, and a whole lot of other things. What happened was, I zoned out just about ten minutes into the conversation. I just could not keep up. What annoyed me, even more, was when I found out that he didn’t realise what he was doing.
If you want to be an effective listener you must pay attention to your listening/talk ratio. Scott Eblin, author of Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative recommends that you strive for a 2:1 ratio of listening to talking.
- Confirm that you are understanding
In order to show the other person that you are actively listening to them, you need to confirm that you are understanding what they’re telling you. This can be done by repeating what they are telling you, not word for word but a summary. It will also help you to put yourself in their shoes and empathise when responding to what they are telling you. If the speaker agrees that what you heard is correct, you can move on. If not, the speaker can rephrase their statement so that you, the listener understands. This will help you pay attention and in the long run, become a better listener.
- Clear your mind and be open-minded
This is an important trait of a good listener. You have to put all your perceptions and past experiences aside and really just listen first. Of course, your input will be required, but let that come at the end. That way the person will even feel more comfortable opening up to you and this will affirm trust in your relationship. Don’t be so quick to jump in with your own story or your biased opinions. Just listen, with the intent to understand and not to respond.