As Mark Twain once said, if we were meant to talk more than we listen, we would have two mouths and one ear. Being an effective listener is a key component to successful communication and healthy relationships, but it’s easier said than done. It’s said that the average person talks at a rate of about 125-175 words per minute, while they think at a rate of about 500 words per minute. This means the mind is racing ahead with an endless stream of internal dialogue, making it harder to really focus on the person speaking in front of you (Did I turn the oven off? I wonder what I should cook for dinner. I’m hungry!) Training yourself to become a better listener is more than just hearing the words the other person says and nodding “uh huh”– it’s a deeper level of understanding that is intentional, focused, and mindful. To start, here are 5 ways to be a better listener:
1. Be present. Technology is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it can keep us connected to friends and loved ones 24/7. On the other hand, it distracts us from the relationships and conversations that are happening right in front of us. According to a recent study by Virginia Tech, the mere presence of a cell phone lessens the quality of conversation and lowers empathy. If you want to be a truly engaged listener, put away the phones, tablets, and laptops. Show the speaker that they have your full attention, and resist the urge to post, tweet or text. Facebook will still be there in 5 minutes, I promise!
2. Listen with your body and make eye contact. For important conversations, you need to communicate that you are listening both verbally and non-verbally. Physically turn and face the other person, and make eye contact. It’s also important to pay attention to the speaker’s body language as well; sometimes what isn’t being said can cue us in to the feelings of the other person and creates deeper understanding.
3. Allow for silence. In this multi-tasking world, we are constantly being bombarded with news, noise and information. Silence feels uncomfortable and awkward, so we rush to fill it. So often we aren’t really listening to what the other person is saying because our minds are rushing to come up with a response as soon as they stop talking. Instead, resist the urge to interject with advice or your perspective until you are certain the other person has finished sharing (and don’t give unsolicited advice unless explicitly asked for it!). It can feel strange at first, but making space for silence can prompt the other person into sharing something on a deeper level.
4. Ask for clarification. Before rushing to make assumptions and fill in the blanks, try asking follow up questions for clarification. For example, “It sounds like you felt (blank), correct?” or “So what you’re saying is (blank), am I getting that right?”. It might feel a little stilted or silly at first, but asking for confirmation can help clear up any potential misunderstandings. Asking open-ended questions are also useful in keeping a conversation flowing and allows the speaker to elaborate.
5. Practice! Like any skill, practice makes perfect! It’s not easy to be an expert listener– try practicing daily with your family, friends, your spouse, in a business meeting, etc. Think you’re pretty good? Try this active listening experiment (listening to a story, then taking a quiz about that story). I admit I was shocked at how I didn’t do so well!
Dumplings, what are your tips for being a better listener?
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Photo credit: Justin Lynham via Flickr; Stephen Shorrock via Flickr