Being an effective listener is one of the most critical skills you can master in order to build meaningful relationships, advance your career, and build a successful business. Many people often believe they are great listeners, primarily because they have been doing it their entire life, but mastering the nuances of listening is about changing how you listen. In this article I will highlight 11 things I have learned and observed throughout my life and career. A masterful listener forms an instant bond with others and that immediate connection is created through genuine and sincere interest in others. It all starts with being a good listener.
With complete and masterful listening, you demonstrate your interest in what is being said and you show your respect for the individual saying it. Listening is a magnetic force that draws people to us. Skillful listeners are confident in themselves and provide value to the conversation through the interaction, not by what they have to say.
Have you ever talked to someone and noticed they were not really listening to you? How did it make you feel? Disrespected? Unimportant? Use that awareness and work hard to make certain that people never feel the same way when they talk with you. Challenge yourself to master the art of listening.
1. Start the Conversation. I am astounded at the people that wait for someone else to strike up a conversation. To be an active listener you must first engage someone in a conversation. Walk up to someone and introduce yourself. Begin the conversation. Another effective way is to insert yourself into a discussion that is already going. Begin by listening.
2. Ask Questions. The easiest way to start a conversation is to ask questions. The easiest was to keep a conversation going is to respond with questions. When you ask people questions during a conversation, you show a sincere interest in the topic. A powerful way is to ask how they FEEL about the subject they have raised. Most people operate at a feeling level, rather than a thinking level, even if they are logical thinkers.
3. Make Eye Contact. As simple as this sounds it is an essential step in being a good listener. Make eye contact with people while they are talking, look into their eyes to find the soul of their words. Good eye contact demonstrates genuine interest in the person and the conversation. Please recognize this is not to be intense staring, but rather appropriate eye contact and appropriately looking away at times. try not to make it appear intentional, but rather sincere.
4. Use Open Body Language. Using body language and eye contact the right way can really have a positive impact on the speaker. To show you are listening and interested, lean slightly forward in your chair. Be sure your arms are uncrossed. If standing, stand slightly at an angle to the speaker, not facing straight forward. Open body language encourages the trust and openness of the relationship.
5. Be Present, I must admit I have been accused of not being present when my wife is talking even though I am looking into her eyes. At these times my mind is off thinking about something other than the words or ideas coming from her mouth. Be aware of your thoughts. If you find yourself not present for a second or momentarily distracted apologize and ask the speaker to repeat what they said or tell them you do not follow what they are saying.
6. Show NO Sign You are Ready to Respond. When you are actively listening, don’t give any clues that you are preparing to respond. Don’t point your finger, open your mouth, take a deep breath or change your facial expression as an indicator that you are ready to respond. When others see you anxiously waiting to respond, they know you are no longer listening because you are now concerned with crafting your response or a rebuttal.
7. Pause before your response. During a conversation, wait a few seconds after the person finishes speaking to allow them to finish their thought and get prepared to listen to you. This is a critical skill when talking on the phone, because you cannot see their facial expression. Often times, they are just pausing to gather their thoughts or take a breath and have not completed their entire thought. If you find yourself talking at the same time as someone else is talking, then use that opportunity to remind yourself of the importance of a pause. Many times the most important information from a conversation comes after the pause.
8. Let them go first. If you start talking at the same time someone else is trying to finish their thought, STOP, apologize with “I’m sorry, please continue” and let them finish before responding. Even if what you have to say is an answer to the question they raised or is important, show them your respect by letting them finish first.
9. Listen for the unstated message. Are you able to pick up on a person’s message that lies beneath their words. By listening intently, you will grasp the topic and move more effectively into the conversation. Most people are looking for encouragement, answers or insights to the subjects they discuss. By listening deeply and connecting with the other person, you will communicate more effectively.
10. Do not change the subject. When engaged in a conversation, don’t change the subject until the discussion is completed. I observe people who do this all the time in small group settings, business networking and social situations. If you change the subject prematurely, you exhibit a lack of interest in the discussion (and the people) and indicate that what you have to say is of higher importance.
11. Do not participate or start a side conversation. When you are part of a group conversation, never start a side conversation, even if the person talking is not making eye contact with you. If you find yourself bored with the conversation try harder to connect with the speaker. Your boredom is merely a symptom of your disconnection.
At first appearance these tips seem so natural and common place. It would seem that these are easy to implement. But doing it consistently is the hard part. Being a good listener requires an intentional effort and above all, a sincere interest in other people. It is a skill worthy of mastering. Listening is a skill that garners respect and respected people are successful.I am committed to working on being a better listener. Will you commit to showing you care about people by incorporating these eleven tips into your daily routine? On a scale of 1-10, what’s your commitment?