Everyone thinks they're great listeners.
What's easier than sitting down and just hearing what a person has to say right? Wrong.
Hearing isn't necessarily listening, nor is it necessarily listening well. As G.K. Chesterton said "there's a lot of difference between hearing and listening." The truth is, many people come to conversations with agendas, whether that is to make themselves be heard, or to make themselves not be heard, and to actually escape the conversation altogether. If you're an introvert, you probably opt for the latter.
If you're anything like me you probably find yourself on the receiving end of countless uninitiated conversations. Although you sit quietly and meekly listening to them, the fact is that you'd much prefer to slip away at the soonest given chance. The problem with constantly feeling this way is that we never actually hear the people who speak to us. We don't put our entire attention, interest or heart into listening and truly understanding them.
The Art Of Listening ... So Why May I Be Fooling Myself?
Just because you're quiet and you let others do 75% of the talking, doesn't mean you're a good listener. It doesn't mean you've mastered the art of listening either.
Did you know that the need to be understood and listened to is a basic human need, along with food, water and shelter? Well ... actually I made that bit up. But it makes sense doesn't it?
How many times have you longed to be heard and understood only to have the receiving end ordering a pizza in the background, shuffling through papers or texting while you talk? Now do you know how it feels?
Everyone Needs Someone To Talk To
And who better than you? After all, if you've got it flaunt it, right? If you're naturally quiet by nature and listen more than talk, why not master the art of listening? After all:
- You'll master a new skill.
- People will be more drawn to you and will like you more.
- You'll be a better friend, lover, teacher, employee and parent.
- Overall you'll be a happier person by making other people happy.
How To Master The Art Of Listening
After researching far and wide across the internet, I've compiled a list of the most important things you should know about the art of listening. Here they are:
1. Make Eye Contact.
This first rule is very obvious but frequently forgotten. If you don't look at the person while they're speaking, you give them the impression that you don't care what they say. In essence, it appears as though you don't even care about them. Simple.
2. Don't Interrupt.
Let the person speak uninterrupted. To master the art of listening you need to halt any good thoughts that come to mind and let the person say everything they need to say. Often times people simply need someone to talk to, not someone who will butt in and give their own thoughts and opinions. The goal is to shine the spotlight on them, not you.
3. Practice "Active Listening".
The art of listening isn't simply about staying quiet 100% of the time, it's also about asking questions. These questions are for clarification, or for further explanation so that you can fully understand what the speaker is telling you. For instance, questions like these are brilliant: "Are you saying that _______", "What I heard you say was ______", "Did you mean that _______".
4. Show You Understand.
Another great way to show that you understand what the person is telling you is to nod. You can also make noises that show you're in tune with what the person is saying such as "yes", "yeah", "mhmm", "okay". This seems trivial, but it's important to not behave like a zombie and demonstrate some interest and comprehension.
5. Listen Without Thinking.
In other words, listen without forming responses in your mind. Be wholehearted and listen to the entire message. It's very tempting to fill the spaces, after all, our minds think around 800 words per minute, compared to 125-150 words we speak per minute. Don't miss valuable information by letting your mind wander!
6. Listen Without Judgement.
To effectively master the art of listening it's extremely important to withhold any negative evaluations or judgements. Make it your goal to be open minded 100% of the time. After all, who wants to open up to a narrow minded person? It also helps to be mindful of your "shut off" triggers, which are the specific words, looks, or situations that cause you to stop listening. This way, you can prevent yourself from shutting off in the future.
7. Listen To Non-Verbal Communication.
About 60 - 75% of our communication is non-verbal. That's a lot! In order to know whether to encourage the speaker, to open yourself more, or to be more supportive in your approach, it's essential to know what the person's body is saying. Do they display signs of discomfort? Are they untrusting of you? Does their body language align with their words? To learn more about body language, try checking out some of Sol's Body Language articles.
8. Create A Suitable Environment.
It can be really difficult to listen to another person when the TV is screaming, your phone is buzzing and there are thousands of cars passing by. When you remove all of these distractions and find a quiet place to sit down and listen, it's much easier to listen empathetically with an open mind and whole heart. Also, when you indicate it would be good to "find a quiet place", you put importance in the person and what they have to say. Once again, you show care and consideration.
9. Observe Other People.
If you're really serious about mastering the art of listening, why not observe other people? One of the best ways to become a better listener is to observe the way people interact with each other, and all the irritating and rude things they do. Create an "annoying habit" checklist, and see if you do any. If you're brave enough, you can even ask someone you trust about what they like and dislike about the way you interact with others in conversation.
As Diogenes Laertius said: “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.” The art of listening is an invaluable life skill. Not only will it help you communicate better with your friends and family, but it will help you succeed in every area of your life.
If you found this article helpful, please feel free to comment, or share an experience. ;)
Photo by: Nishanth Jois