In this final post in the short series on listening skills I want to look at how you can become a better listener. If you want to become a better listener, follow these steps to get started. But first, understand why you’re listening. You are listening to gather information, to understand, to learn and even to have fun. You’re not listening to respond. That is the main difference in active listening.
Step #1: Pay Attention
That may seem like an oversimplification, but it’s true. You need to shut off distractions such as your phone and other screens and truly seek to pay attention. Don’t try to multitask. No one is good at that and you will miss important information if you don’t pay attention.
Step #2: Show Them You’re Listening
When you are listening, no one else will know if you don’t show it. Use your body language, gestures, and words to spur the conversation forward if it’s a conversation. If it’s a speech, it might help you to take notes on the main points of the speech so that you can follow up later.
Step #3: Offer Feedback
When it’s appropriate in the situation, offer affirmative feedback by paraphrasing what you think you heard. Then get confirmation that you’re correct before you ask more open-ended and clarifying questions to keep the communication going.
Step #4: Delay Judgement
If you’re truly actively listening, you need to listen to everything the person is saying before you offer your opinion. It’s okay to ask them if they’re finished with their story if they’re an especially active talker, but otherwise, if you don’t have the whole story you can’t provide your opinion. Sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes it’s not, but if you’re actively listening you’ll be able to judge this better.
Step #5: Respond Appropriately
All honest and open responses are appropriate if they’re given in a respectful way. Always treat other people in the manner you wish to be treated, even if you disagree with them vehemently. Focus on the intended message and not always the content of what they said to truly delve into the discussion or issue.
It can take practice to learn to become a better listener, but it will pay off in many ways. You’ll build better relationships in all aspects of your life. People will like and trust you more. To get good at listening, you’ll need to become more self-aware than you may be now. You’ll need to know what your body is doing and to control your mind while you’re listening so that you are truly listening and not just pretending to listen.