I’ll be the first to admit that I have to work hard at being a good listener. My brain loves to think about the future, so staying focused in the here and now is a personal challenge. In our busy world it can also be hard to avoid all the distractions around us and just listen to what someone has to say.
If you’ve ever felt really listened to by someone, you’ll know it’s a powerful thing. When we feel heard it means we are important to someone, even for a few moments. Building and keeping connections and relationships takes work and listening to someone keeps trust and connections strong.
Here are five simple tips to make you a listening ninja.
1. Put away distractions. Yes, I do mean your devices. Put your phone away and preferably switch it to silent mode. Turn the tv off and step away from your computer. All these devices create noise and visual distractions that stop us from listening to the person we are talking to. Even if you’re talking over the phone, someone can hear if you’re distracted and not listening properly. So, turn away from your computer so you don’t see those email notifications pop up while you’re talking on the phone.
2. If you can’t give the person your full attention right away, ask them if you can talk to them when you finish what you’re doing. By saying ‘I really want to give you my full attention, so can we talk in 5 minutes?’ you’re letting them know that they are important, and you want to really hear what they have to say. It’s better than trying to multitask (which never works) or by only half-listening because you’re thinking about the job you’re half way through.
3. Show your interest – let your body language show you are listening. We know that 90% of our communication happens through our body language so this is important stuff. Eye contact builds trust and shows you are interested in what the person is saying. I don’t mean stare them down, because let’s face it, that’ll scare them. If direct eye contact makes you a little uncomfortable, a good way to start is to look at their eyebrows while they are talking and let your eyes move away and then come back to them about every 5 seconds, or for one or two sentences. When you lean towards the person slightly this shows you are listening, and so does nodding and tilting your head. Good listeners know the power of posture, and keep their arms relaxed and not crossed in front of them. When we fold our arms it sends a message that we are closed off and even defensive.
4. Ask a curious question – one you don’t know the answer to. You might have heard the quote ‘listen to understand, not to reply’. So often we ask questions that we think we know the answer to or we’re just waiting for the person to take a breath so we can offer our perspective or deep wisdom. We’ve all done it and it can be a real conversation killer. Mix it up and be respectfully curious. It shows you’re interested, and you’re invested in the conversation, not just letting the person’s words wash over you.
5. Ask a clarifying question to check that you’ve understood what the person has said. These are really easy but so powerful. Asking ‘So, by that do you mean…?’ or ‘Just so I’m clear, what you mean is…?’ This shows that you want to understand, and it also avoids crossed wires and miscommunication.
These are some simple tips that you can practice in every area of your life. Great listeners build trust and better listeners have better relationships at home, work and everywhere else. Who do you need to hear?