Photo by Thomas Hawk
“To be interesting, be interested.
Ask questions that other person will enjoy answering.
Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.”
Everyone desires to be heard. When we listen to others, we validate their need to be acknowledged and understood. Deep down inside, we all want to know that we matter, that we are important. Don’t you find that meeting someone who shows interest in what we have to say, we tend to take a liking to them instantly?
I’m not asking you to pretend to be interested in hopes of being liked, but rather to pay attention to this often overlooked and forgotten skill. In addition to improving your personal and professional relationships, listening also helps to prevent misunderstandings and facilitates cooperation.
The following are techniques to being an effective listener. I have learned these from communication courses, seminars and books on personal relationships. These are ones I’ve personally found to be useful when engaged in a conversation with other people:
- Mirroring – mimic the other personal facial expressions and body positions. React as if you have become their mirror. Mirroring will allow you to feel what they are feeling, and have a deeper understanding of feelings carried with the words. People will begin to feel very comfortable being around you without consciously understanding why.Did you know that a baby will mimic the expressions of adults? Try it next time you’re playing with a baby in a crib. Make a distinct face, and watch the baby’s reaction.I learned this technique first from a psychology textbook, and later from Tony Robbins. After trying it myself, I learned that you can experience what others are feeling, but might find yourself on the same wavelength with similar thoughts and visions. Our physiology (facial expression, gesture and posture) can affect our internal state. Mirroring is just a technique to put yourself in a position (literally) to accept and internalize the meaning behind the words.
- For example, you are sitting across the table from someone, the other person is holding a glass of water with his left hand, leaning forward and towards the right side. You mirror them by holding a glass of water or cup with your right hand, leaning forward and towards the left side.
- Focus On Them, Not Yourself – In conversations, I often lose my mind in my own thoughts. I get hung on what I’m going to say next or random thoughts like, ‘How do I look?’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘What should I do tonight?’ The trick is to shift that attention and focus on the speaker. Give them your full attention. Be genuinely interested in them and what they have to say. Here’s a quote from Dale Carnegie extracted from principle 4 of “How to Win Friends and Influence People“
“Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”
- Active Listening - It’s easy to let your mind wander while someone is talking. It’s also natural to focus on how you plan to respond to the speaker rather than giving your full attention. Try active listening to shift focus on listening:
- Repeat – Repeat what they are saying in your head, in your own words. Internalize the meaning of the words.
- Summarize what you heard. A great listening technique involves rephrasing the speaker’s words and repeating them back to them. This verifies that you understood what the speaker said, and also gives the speaker a chance to clarify their thoughts. You can start the sentence with “So what I’m hearing you say is” or “Are you saying that“
- Look for the message – Look for keywords. Don’t just listen with your ears, but also with your heart and soul. Connect with them. There are so much more said than just words alone. Try to ask yourself, What is their point? Where are they coming from? What do they need? What they are saying in words is just an expression, but there’s always an underlying message. Look for that core message.
- Body Language – lets the speaker know you are paying attention and care about what they are saying.
- Make Eye Content - show you are paying attention. Make sure your eyes are not wander around the environment, looking behind the person. One technique is to focus on just one eye, this shows concentration and will help you focus.
- Smile - When we are focused, we tend to have no expressions on our face and this can be interpreted as unwelcoming or uninterested. Remember to wear a smile, even a slight one.
- Node & ‘Un-huh’ - Add “un-huh”, “hmmm”, “I see” in between sentences. This is direct feedback to the speaker, it acknowledges to the other person that their words are heard and understood.
- Lean Forward – lean slightly towards the person, show that you are interested in what they have to say and are giving them your full attention.
- Questions & Probing – Ask questions to clarify your understanding. People like questions, provided you are conscious of when not to ask questions (for example, you don’t want to interrupt their train of thought by jumping in with questions as they speak). This shows that you are listening and are following them. Probe for additional and related information. Some good probing sentence starters are How? Why? For example, “How did it happen?” “And what was your reaction?” “Why did you choose to leave?”
- Non-Judgmental – Listen with compassion, openness and acceptance. In conversations, we often think about refutes and counter-arguments as the other person speaks. Listen with openness by recognizing that they are expressing themselves, and allow them the freedom to do that. Besides, we don’t want to be judged when we are speaking, so why should we judge others?
- Don’t interrupt – Let the speaker finish their thoughts. Don’t move on to what you’d like to say until the speaker has finished talking. If you have something to say, bite your tongue and nod. Be patient, wait for your turn. Remember how annoying it was when someone interrupted you? And you lost your train of thought? Give others respect and allow them to finish.
If you lose focus, change your body position. If you find your mind wandering, move to a different position and try using one of the techniques above to refocus on the speaker.
Do you have any listening tips or thoughts you’d like to share? We’d love to hear ‘em in the comments. See you there!
External resources on listening skills:
- Book: Listening: The Forgotten Skill: A Self-Teaching Guide
- Slow Leadership: Taking Time Out to Listen
- Life Hack: The Forgotten Power of Conversation
- Steve Pavlina: Interpersonal Communication and the Awareness Gap
- Book: How to Win Friends and Influence People
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