How would you feel if you were talking about your favorite activities to do and noticed that the person you were speaking to wasn’t listening to you? You’d probably feel a little sad—and maybe even angry.
Unfortunately, many people are guilty of not listening during conversations. Instead, they pretend. For many individuals, the art of listening is foreign. Our present society communicates electronically so much that we don’t know how to hold physical conversations effortlessly anymore.
To have a quality conversation with someone, you must give your words sometimes, and listen to the other person’s words at other times. This might seem boring, but it’s essential to maintaining relationships with friends and family. Without active listening, people can often feel unheard and undervalued. That’s why it’s crucial for everybody to learn how to be a better listener.
Want to up your listening game? Here are 9 ways to become a better listener.
Get rid of distractors
Have you ever been talking to someone but you can tell from their body language and distant look that they’re not really listening to what you’re saying? You realize midway through the conversation that the other person does not really care much about listening to what you have to say. It’s either they’re just waiting for you to shut up so that they can talk or they’re being distracted by some external agents.
Distractions are a big impediment to effective listening. The biggest distractor is our smartphones; these tiny gadgets are constantly trying to get our attention by buzzing, thereby taking us out of the moment. You always want to see who sent that message, who called you five minutes ago or if your boss has forwarded you that document yet. This creates a shift in the conversation and the initiator of the conversation knows immediately that you’re not fully invested and present anymore.
To become a better listener, you have to be attentive. You should try as much as possible to remove any potential distractor from your presence. Resist the temptation to look at your watch or phone, or think about some other plans you’ve made for the day. Instead, focus all your attention on what the other person is saying to you.
Listening involves all five sensory organs. It is not just enough to truly listen; an active listener also has to make sure that the other person knows that they are really listening to them, even when the conversation is just small talk. This prevents the speaker from thinking that the listener is uninterested in the conversation.
It is perfectly normal for your mind to wander during a conversation. You’re a human being, after all. But as soon as the listener realizes that their mind is starting to wander, they work to put those distracting thoughts under control immediately.
Exhibit positive body language
The body language of a person can tell you a lot about the state of mind of that person. By observing body language, you’ll be able to detect if a person is interested, anxious or just bored of a conversation.
The body language of a good listener is open and transparent. A good listener will express curiosity in what the speaker is saying. The listener’s facial expressions will routinely change to suit what they are actually thinking throughout the conversation. Good listeners smile when they’re happy. They furrow their brows when they are concerned. Their eyelids droop when they are being empathetic. Their body language shows the speaker that they are fully present in the conversation.
Imagine this scenario.
You finish classes for the day and head back to your dorm. Your roommate is curled up in her bed reading a copy of Times magazine. You drop your bag heavily on the bed and exclaim, “Wow! Today was really rough for me.” Your roommate hears you but keeps her eyes glued to the magazine’s pages.
Would you think your roommate was a good listener? No, right?
Imagine if she had looked up from the magazine instead and said, “Oh no. What happened to you?” Would you think she was really listening to you then?
To become a good listener, you have to exhibit positive body language. This makes you more open and receptive to what the speaker is telling you. It also shows the speaker that you’re truly listening.
If you’re not sure how to exhibit positive body language or read another person’s body language, here are some of the best books on body language. You sure will learn a thing or two from these books.
Don’t interrupt the speaker
It really irks me when someone holds up their finger or speaks over me when I’m in the middle of a sentence. It makes me rush to finish what I was saying, which causes me to stumble over my words. The constant stumbling makes me get really anxious, and everything goes south from there.
Interrupting a speaker is very disrespectful and insulting. It doesn’t make you seem smart. Instead it means that you think that what you’re about to say is more important than what the speaker is saying. Interruption induces feelings of frustration in the speaker; it makes them feel unimportant.
The reason for interrupting a speaker does not matter at all. If you want to counter a point or express agreement or disagreement, do so AFTER the speaker has finished what they’re saying. Doing so in the middle of the speaker’s speech can cause the speaker to lose track of what they’re saying.
Just wait your turn!
Many conversations people have are one-sided because the listener does not show interest in what the speaker’s saying. To hold a conversation properly, you have to show interest by asking relevant questions.
For example, if someone is telling you about the time they climbed Mount Everest, don’t sit there and respond with a lame, “Oh, that’s cool.” This kind of response shows a lack of interest; it can even be considered an insult. Instead, you can ask questions like, “How long have you been mountaineering?” “Was the learning process difficult?” “How were the temperatures on your journey to the peak?” etc.
Asking questions like these shows the speaker that you are really listening to them and that you can hold a good conversation.
At the heart of good listening is genuine empathy. When you listen to someone, you are in the process of seeing the world through that person’s eyes. You’re trying to understand and relate to the speaker’s emotions. You cannot do this effectively if you keep internally judging the speaker as they talk to you.
Many people don’t understand that they actually send nonverbal cues that they have formed an opinion of the speaker. The speaker will sense these cues, and the conversation will dampen immediately.
When going into a discussion with someone else or a group of people, try to clear your mind. Involve yourself in the conversation with the intent to understand their perspective(s) without any judgement. When you do so, people will readily open up to you because they feel they can trust you to understand and respect what they want to tell you.
Before you talk or actively participate in the conversation, be honest with yourself about why you’re about to talk. Ask yourself, “Why exactly am I about to say something?” Do you want to show the speaker(s) that you understand and relate to what they’re saying? Or do you want to talk because you have the desire to show off a bit?
It is good to contribute to a conversation, but be careful not to say anything that can overwhelm the discussion and make people close up suddenly.
Maintain eye contact
This aspect of body language is so important that it needs its own point.
When a speaker is saying something, it is very likely that they think their speech is meaningful. Thus, they really don’t want their listener’s eyes to stray away. This means that they don’t want their listener to read a text message or look at their feet while they’re talking.
Eye contact is very powerful. Your eyes can tell someone many things even without you having to say anything. Maintaining eye contact shows the speaker that what they’re saying is valuable. It shows that they have your attention. If you relate to anything the speaker is saying, proof of that will show in your eyes.
Now, this does not mean you should creepily stare at a speaker; just look at them softly. Avoid looking at anywhere else but the speaker’s eyes. It’s a difficult thing to maintain, especially when you’re not interested in the topic of discussion. But instead of being rude by averting your eyes, you can change the topic or excuse yourself.
Follow up on the conversation
Remembering and following up on a conversation is very important, especially when the topic of discussion was an intricate one and/or the speaker was in crisis. It is very painful for a depressed person to talk to their friend about their struggles only to have the friend not check up on them later. Not following up on a conversation sends the speaker a message that you don’t care about what they said.
You shouldn’t follow up only when the conversation is intricate though. You should follow up even in seemingly trivial situations. For example, your friend told you a few weeks ago that they’d gotten a promotion and they are thinking of moving to another state. If you run into your friend today, you might say, “Hey, how are you preparing for the big move?” This shows your friend that you listened intently to what they said and that you’re interested in their progress.
Remembering and following up shows that you care. It certainly makes you become a better listener.
P.S.: If you are in crisis or going through some turbulent situations, here are some books that can teach you how to find inner peace.
Listen to learn
Many listeners only listen to a conversation to find loopholes and prove a point. This is a very wrong approach. As the saying goes, “It is better to be interested than to be interesting.”
Listen to learn. The art of listening exposes you to perspectives held by other people. When you listen to learn, you begin to understand why people have different opinions than you and what fuels those differing worldviews. In short, you’re getting educated on the ways of the world for free.
When you meet new people, it is important to acknowledge that they have learned a few things in their respective journeys through the world. Therefore, when you have conversations with people, you should aim to unearth their wisdom by developing a genuine interest in what they’re saying.
You could also ask them some open-ended questions like:
- What did you love about that trip?
- Why does X interest you?
- What was the most surprising thing about that?
- What’s the biggest lesson you learned from that experience?
- What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Listening to learn will benefit your relationships with friends and family and even your business relationships/partnerships. Keith Ferrazi’s book Never Eat Alone shows you how to manage the most important business relationships you have–through listening.
Honestly, nothing hurts me more than hearing someone else talk about issues I’ve only told a close friend about. It hurts like crazy. There’s a reason some pieces of information are labelled ‘confidential’. It means that this information should be kept secret—told to no one else.
If you really want to become a better listener, listen carefully. Try to identify information the speaker would like to remain secret. If the speaker is a close friend of yours, they might not tell you outright that you should keep quiet about certain things they want to disclose to you. They automatically expect you to discern info that they don’t want anyone except you to know about. And that’s exactly what you should do.
Figure out if they’re telling you secrets; if they are, the best thing you can do for the sake of the relationship is to SHUT UP about it. Don’t go into the streets yelling out your best friend’s secrets for the world to hear. It’s destructive.
No matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else about these secrets, try to keep it confidential. To become a better listener, you have to be trustworthy and sensitive with information. Let your speaker know that their secrets are safe with you. This deepens your relationship and makes the speaker feel more secure around you. They will feel like you’re someone they can talk to about anything without fear of other people knowing about it.
Trust is one of the most important aspects of a relationship—platonic or not. When you keep your friend’s secrets, you are paving the way for a free flow of information and conversation between the both of you.
Here’s a recap of every point in this article. To become a good listener, you must:
- Get rid of distractors
- Exhibit positive body language
- Not interrupt the speaker
- Show interest
- Not judge
- Maintain eye contact
- Follow up on the conversation
- Listen to learn
- Keep secrets