You can tell right away when you meet a good listener — they are engaging, they ask all the right questions, and they really make you feel heard. It's nice to meet someone like this, but it's also good to be this person, too. Listening is one of those life skills everyone should master, even though it's not always easy.
In fact, sometimes listening feels downright impossible. Think of the times you found yourself in a heated disagreement with your SO. Did you actually hear what they had to say, or did you just wait for your turn to talk? Probably the latter, which I'm guessing didn't get you both very far in resolving the issue. (Am I right?) Or try to remember the last time you sat across from your boss, who was giving you instructions that went in one ear and out the other. Yikes, not good.
If this sounds like you, you'll be happy to know that listening can be an acquired skill. It's sort of like learning how to network, or give a speech, or shaking someone's hand. It's not innate in everyone, but it's a social skill that comes about after a lot of practice.
So the next time you're listening to someone, don't just glaze over or wait for your turn to talk. Instead, practice some of these tips and you'll soon start to actually hear what others have to say.
1. Don't Assume You Know What They're Thinking
My high school track coach once said, "Don't assume anything. It just makes an ass out of you and me." I'm sure you've heard that one before, too. I've always remembered that clever little saying, and have since tried to keep my assumptions to myself. And this becomes especially handy while listening. When you start a convo assuming you know what's in someone else's head, then you're brain is primed to accept only information that agrees with your preconceived notions, says Sunny Sea Gold on ScientificAmerican.com. This makes truly listening next to near impossible, so go into every conversation with an open mind.
2. Ask Open-Ended Questions So You're Sure To Understand
Listening is more than just nodding and grunting in agreement, because when you do, you're either glazed over or appearing to be glazed over. A good way to keep yourself engaged in the conversation is to ask open-ended questions. Gold suggested asking questions like "Can you say a bit more about how that makes you feel?" or "Can you say more to help me understand?" It's a sneaky way of getting people to better explain themselves, which in turn helps you be a better listener.
3. Try Not To Interrupt
There is nothing more annoying than someone who steps on the end of everyone's sentences. It gives off the impression that the person doesn't care about what's being said (and when they're doing this, they probably don't.) Resist the urge to interrupt, and instead wait for your turn to speak. It not only validates the other person, but it allows you to time to truly hear what they are saying.
4. Don't Just Wait For Your Turn To Talk
This tends to happen when you're mad, or nervous. You see the other person talking at you, but all you really hear are your own thoughts about what you plan to say. If you're worried about forgetting your important talking points, make a little checklist (mental or otherwise) of what you'd like to say. Then, clear your thoughts from your head so you're free to hear what's being said.
5. Listen With Your Whole Body
Listening is far more than just staring at someone while their mouth moves. As Carolyn Kylstra notes on BuzzFeed, you should listen to someone the way you would a four-year-old. "That basically means be expressive, engaged, empathetic, and responsive when someone is telling you something," she says. Face the person who is talking, look them in the eye, smile when they say something happy, frown when something is sad. Really throw yourself into the conversation. It'll help you listen, and the other person will love the fact they are being heard.
6. Stick To The Current Topic
I know, it's tough to keep a conversation on track when you have a million different things floating around in your head. But resist the urge to redirect someone else's conversation, and instead force yourself stay on topic when you're listening, suggested Diane Gottsman on the Huffington Post. "Often a topic gets redirected after [someone] says something that triggers a memory or passion of yours that does not directly relate to what they shared," she says. So the next time your friend is telling you about her boyfriend troubles, don't interject with your own stories and anecdotes. Let her have the floor.
Some of us are incredible listeners, while others... not so much. Luckily, with a little practice, it is a skill anyone can learn.