When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.Dalai Lama
Are we really listening or waiting to talk? Many people dominate conversations simply because they lack the ability to control their urge to talk. A few of us probably like to talk to show how much we know. Some of us just like to be heard – it feels good. Some of us like to give our opinion, and there are several of us who just like to be right so we’ll spend more time talking to prove that we are. We talk to change people’s minds. We talk because we are nervous or insecure and do so out of habit. Whatever the reason, the more we talk, the less we are listening.
Listening is arguably one of the most difficult skills in communications, and we’re getting worse at it. The average person has an eight-second attention span. We have busy schedules and abundant distractions. This makes it hard to attentively listen when someone is speaking. Listening attentively to another person requires that we do so in the spirit of honoring their perspective by expressing a genuine interest in what they are saying while keeping our personal agenda aside.
Here are five ways to practice being a better listener:
Make Eye Contact
Our eyes reflect our sincerity, warmth and honesty. When we keep eye contact with someone it indicates that we are focused and paying attention. It tells them that they are important and that we are actively listening.
Be Fully Present
Think of listening as a form of meditation. You have to clear your mind of everything else, so you can focus entirely on what the other person is saying. Make sure your phone is off or away from you. If you’re at your desk, turn off your monitor or turn your chair around so you’re not distracted by the screen. Try to focus fully on the other person, pushing away the thoughts about the next task you have to complete or what you are going to have for dinner.
Listen to Learn & Understand
We can all learn something from everyone. We often think that we are listening but most of the time we’re actually just considering how to jump in to tell our own story, offer advice, or even make a judgment—in other words, we are not listening to understand, but rather to reply. When we listen to understand we are taking the time to recognize, appreciate and acknowledge another human.
Don’t Interrupt or Impose Solutions
The most difficult component of listening effectively is waiting until the person talking is done and then waiting some more before formulating a reply. People feel respected and appreciated when they can share their thoughts without interruption. The best kind of listening is about being comfortable not knowing what you’re going to say next, or what question you might ask.
A person that comes to you to talk about what’s going on with them doesn’t need you to provide a solution: they need a listening ear. They need to hear things in their own voice. Let them talk. Listen to hear and not to solve. If someone wants your feedback, trust that they will ask for it.
Ask More Questions
One of the simplest ways to be a better listener is to ask more questions than you give answers. When you ask questions, you create a safe space for other people to give you the authentic truth and a better opportunity to stay present and focused in your conversations.
The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus once said that there is a reason why we have been given two ears and one mouth – so that we can listen more than we speak. We’re all deserving of becoming a better and fuller expression of ourselves. One of the ways we can do that is by being receptive to all the knowledge and wisdom offered by the people around us. Real listening can transform and enhance our lives beyond measure.