How to Become a Better Listener
What message are your listening skills sending? Find out how to fine-tune them with these five steps.
We all know communication is key to functional relationships, but being a good communicator is easier said than done. One of the most important parts of communication is being a great listener. These five things can help any good listener become a great listener.
Become fluent in reading body language
Expert listening often requires your eyes just as much as your ears. Albert Mehrabian, an early researcher of body language in the 1950s, said most of what we say is through our body. According to Mehrabian, our communication is made up of 7% verbal (the words you use), 38% tone and inflection, and nonverbal makes up the other 55%.
“The key to reading body language is being able to understand a person's emotional condition while listening to what they are saying and noting the circumstances under which they are saying it. This allows you to separate fact from fiction and reality from fantasy,” wrote Barbara Pease in her book “The Definitive Book of Body Language.”
Nonverbal communication is so powerful, many of today’s politicians have body language coaches to train them how to portray empathy, honesty, and sincerity through nonverbal signs. Most of us, however, don’t have such coaches, so much of what one’s body language says is likely to be accurate.
So, while you learn to interpret what others are saying with their body, you also need to control what your body language is communicating. Are your arms folded? Are you avoiding eye contact? Both can indicate nervousness. Simple things like leaning in, maintaining eye-contact, and relaxing your body can tell someone you are earnestly listening.
Ask for clarification when needed
There’s no harm in asking questions. If you didn’t understand something or missed a detail, asking for clarification shows you are trying to keep it all straight. You can’t be a good listener if you don’t understand what’s being said.
But don’t interrupt unless necessary
Clarifying questions show that you are actively listening, but even with good intentions, interruptions like adding your point of view without being asked tend to halt the natural flow speaking. The individual speaking can also feel less understood when a lot of interruptions occur. Let them get it all out there.
Focus on the present
Most of the communication we see demonstrated in America comes from shows and movies. Unfortunately, good examples of fantastic listening are rare because it’s not exciting to watch. Quick quips, which make up most of media dialogue, require the listener to be considering what to say next while the other is still speaking.
This is possibly the most challenging part of being a great listener. Great listeners don’t multitask—they just listen. This means not trying to form your response while someone is still speaking. Great listening can slow down a conversation, but in the long run it is a far more efficient way to communicate.
Don’t fear silence
Thoughtful listeners are also thoughtful responders. When someone wants your opinion, don’t be afraid of silence in the conversation to really think through what you say before you say it.
Taking a few moments before you respond can show the person you are listening, and what they said really matters to you. In turn, it helps you correctly communicate your thoughts with them.
Everyone has been on the receiving end of speaking to a great listener and a not-so-great one. Next time you notice a great listener, pay attention to what they do that makes you want to talk to them. Along with the suggestions above, mimicking those actions will make you a pro-communicator in no time.