Recall talking to your boss during a meeting.
During the conversation, you were constantly thinking about what should you say next. Though you were listening to your boss, not all your attention was on what he was saying. Half your brain was processing his words in bits and parts while the other half was busy preparing your reply.
What is effective listening?
Do you find yourself often saying, “Sorry I did not catch that?” If you do, you must know that you do not pay enough attention to what the other person is saying. You worry about what you should say next than listen to what the other person has to say.
By default, you and I worry more about the quality of our reply. So when a person is voicing his thoughts, you think of the perfect reply. But it isn’t your fault either. If I ask people what does good communication mean to them, 9/10 will look at speaking as the only factor.
The world perceives talking as the dominant aspect of communication. But listening plays an equally important part.
In today’s world, speaking is overrated. Tools like email make it even worse because you only have a chance to put forth your message. To listen to what the other person has to say, you have to wait for the reply to come in. You have no clue how the other person perceives the message because neither can you see his expressions nor his body language.
Today, listening seems like a lost art because the world does not deem it important. You have heard people saying, “Joe knows how to speak well.” Ever heard anyone state, “David is an amazing listener.”? Bingo. Do you see the discrimination between talking and listening?
You and I tend to look only at our perspective while talking. Unknowingly, we want to maneuver the conversation to make ourselves seem like the better person among the two with compelling arguments.
Along with working on improving your speaking skills, putting some conscious effort on listening will make a great overall communicator.
How to be a better listener
In it’s simplest definition, if you want to know how to be a better listener, the answer lies in the question itself. You just have to listen better. Simple, ain’t it?
But it isn’t that simple. It is easier said than done. Therefore, here are some tricks you can use to improve your listening skills.
1. Do not prepare your reply while the other person is talking
Every time you have a conversation, remind yourself to prevent your mind from drafting a response. You will find yourself drifting into thinking mode quite often when you begin. Over time, you will start thinking of a reply lesser.
A few years back, I was keen to bring up a good point into the conversation. It did not matter if I was talking to a co-worker, a sibling or a friend. I always wanted to make a better point.
When I subdued my urge to talk, I understood the other person far better. I realized if I listened better, I would add a valid contribution to the conversation instead of a good point from my perspective.
2. Pause to process if needed
Some people have the ability to think on their feet, while some don’t. I have a hard time doing multiple things at the same time. This includes talking and listening together as well.
Many of us do not have quick processing ability. When the other person stops talking I used to find myself in a spot where I did not know what to reply. The silence would seem awkward, so I would panic and hurry into a response. In most cases, my response would not turn out optimal.
To solve the problem, I realized, all I had to do was – pause. The realization took a few years but let’s keep that aside. Some wise man said better late than never.
It is perfectly ok to pause after the other person finishes his words to collect your thoughts and draft your response. You won’t need a lot of time to come up with a response. Those few seconds of silence will go unnoticed. Just pause and you will do fine.
3. Listen to learn
How would you listen if you were sitting for a coaching session of 1 hour from the person you admire the most? You would be all ears, grabbing everything the person had to say because you are listening to learn.
Try and look at every conversation as learning. Sure, you may not learn lessons from every conversation but you will understand the perspective of the other person. When you listen to learn, you pay more attention to what the other person says. Moreover, every person, no matter who has some or the other thing to teach you.
I used to listen with the intention of making a better point. Over the years, I now try to listen to get a peek into the soul of the other person. I fade into reply thinking mode often, but I listen with more attention than before.
4. Do not speak because of a pause
In a conversation, a pause is not a signal to start talking again. In group meetings, people wait for the pause to spring into action and make their point. Not to mention, the time spent preparing the point mentally while the rest of the group was talking.
Leave the pauses alone. Talk only if you have to make a point, not because the speaker tried to breathe.
I used to straightaway cut between conversations when I had to make a point. With enough feedback from people, I stopped interrupting conversations. But I ran into another problem. In group meetings, I would listen to the early conversation. Suddenly a thought would flash in my mind which I would mentally rate as awesome to bring up. But since I did not find a pause and I knew not to interrupt, I would shut up until I found the opportunity.
Sometimes, the talk would drift away from my point and I would feel helpless even during a pause because my point would not fit in anymore. Through the rest of the meeting, I would wait for the right context to show up. As soon as it did, I would jump like an antelope to grab the next pause.
I had to tell myself many times to shut up before I actually did shut up.
5. Do not hunt for answers
When people mention a problem, the first thing your mind does is try to find a solution. When you find your space to talk, you start with, “I think you should …”
I remember one incident where a coworker came to because she felt disrespected by another team member. I comforted her saying I will do something about it and I spoke to the other person to solve the problem. The next day, my effort was not appreciated. The fact, that I tried to fix the problem annoyed her. Her behavior left me confused for a few days. “Why did she have to mention the problem to me if she did not expect me to solve it?”, I thought.
After a trip to the Himalayas and a few decades of meditation, I realized all she wanted was for me to listen to her venting out. She did not want any solution.
When people talk to you, they do not always expect advise, answers or a fix.
Sometimes your friend wants a pal to talk to or your coworker wants some comfort or your partner needs some tender loving and care. Evaluate if an answer is necessary. In half the cases, it isn’t.
6. A conversation is not a secret battle
When fans of different sports teams gather for a beer, the battle of words begin. The first fan appreciates the sportsmanship and the elegant playing style of his team while the other person boasts about winning trophies.
Each of them tries to prove their team as superior by using their words. Fans even go the extra mile to defend their team even when they know the other person had a better point. But the other fan finds a way to contradict it one way or the other.
Every conversation is not a battle to win. I would try to win every conversation myself. If the other person made a better point, I would think hard to find a counterpoint. I won some and I lost some, but I do not find any trophies in my cabinet.
Today, I have realized, a conversation between two people does not need a winner and no prizes are distributed. I tell my perspective, listen to the other person and if it does not match, I agree to disagree.
Two people can have a normal conversation even though they have polar opposite views on the same topic.
7. Acknowledge the words of the other person
When you acknowledge the other person speaking, the conversation turns engaging because the speaker feels heard and respected. Different parts of the world have a varied culture for acknowledging the speaker. In some countries, you must nod, while in some others you are better off using a ‘uhum’. Nodding works well in almost all the countries except a few exceptions like Bulgaria, where a nod signifies disagreement.
When you acknowledge the other person with a nod or a uhum, you listen to the words spoken. You will think lesser about your reply.
8. Assume you have to tell your friend about this conversation
Imagine you have to tell a story about what happened at work to your mom. You will need details from different perspectives. Likewise, if you assume you have to tell your friend about the conversation you are having now, you will force yourself to listen. When you listen to the details, you will have a better story to tell your friend.
What makes a good listener? Do’s and Don’t of listening
To become an improved person over time, working on your listening is crucial.
|Do’s of better listening||Dont’s of better listening|
|Be present||Don’t look at your phone or computer screen|
|Pause to process your thoughts||Don’t think of what you should say while the other person is talking|
|Acknowledge with a nod or uhum||Don’t reply just to make your point|
|Reply to add value||Don’t find answers on every occasion|
|Don’t try to win the conversation|
|Don’t speak because someone paused|
Importance of listening skills
Listening helps you foster better relationships, cause lesser conflicts and attain greater growth in your career. The importance of listening skills are multifold. However, Unlike the immediate compliment after a good speech, the benefits of listening take a longer time to realize.
1. You build better rapport
When you keep your ears and mind open to what the other person says, you make the other person feel heard and respected. People like the person whom they can talk to and feel heard. As a result, by listening more, you build better relationships with people.
2. You create less confusion and problems
Half of the problems of the world arise because two people sat down for a conversation and said things they shouldn’t have. If one of them was listening, the misunderstandings would cut by half. If both were listening, the world would be a happier place today.
You are keen to talk and make your point without listening to the other person. Thus, you make unnecessary comments which lead to disputes and conflicts. If you listen with patience, you will encounter much fewer disagreements.
3. You come across as a good communicator
As surprising as it may sound, the better you listen, the more you seem like a good communicator. Of course, this does not mean people will consider you a good communicator if you do not open your mouth. Even if you speak lesser, but speak with empathy by understanding the other person, your words connect with the other person.
You speak with better quality responses if you listen more.
Right from school, society has taught us to hone our speaking skills. Parents urge their introvert children to talk more. Nobody gives a rat’s ass about listening.
Hardly anybody tells you that you should listen more. But you should.
In the current world of technology, you can communicate over chat, email, texts, group messages, stories, and even emojis. Listening is turning rarer like the endangered tigers. If you learn how to be a better listener, you will stand out. You will not magically transform overnight, but with time and effort, you can attain the serenity of a great listener.
If anyone has already told you that you are a good listener, consider that as a feather in the cap. If not, work on earning that compliment.
What I am not:
What I am:
Continuously improving self-learner
Productivity/Time Management Obsessed