What it Takes to be a Good Listener

Communication is a two-way street. If you’re not willing to listen to your associates and employees, you will have a difficult time making progress, building trust, and moving forward as a company. A poor listener not only conveys disrespect to others, but also prevents personal growth and the opportunity to absorb valuable thoughts and insights from others.

Forming good listening skills takes dedication and an attentive mind. Most of the tactics you can use to improve your listening skills are rooted in the general concepts of etiquette. Let’s examine some of the methods you can use to improve your conversational skills.

Avoiding Misinterpretations

Most failures of communication aren’t caused by one person’s failure to convey their thoughts accurately. These breakdowns are often due to the other person’s failure to effectively listen. This is partly due to human nature. Conversations have a typical flow of taking turns talking, and that socially constructed flow often winds up causing more problems than it prevents.

Unfortunately, “listening” to some people just means waiting their turn to talk. It’s human nature to automatically start thinking of a response when someone is talking, but it’s vital to make the effort to drown out those thoughts and instead focus attentively on what is being said by the other person. Conversations are learning opportunities, even when it may not be immediately apparent. Even the most laid-back, friendly conversations are learning experiences when you can effectively listen to the other person. By avoiding the natural inclination to prepare responses, you can start being a more effective listener.

Body Language

Eye contact is a vital part of being a good listener. If your focus starts to drift away from the other person, they can easily take this as an insult, or assume you do not truly value their part of the conversation. Even if they make polite efforts to regain your attention, the conversation has still broken down.

In addition to maintaining eye contact, other aspects of body language are crucial to effective listening. Today’s society is inundated with information, and most adults carry smartphones with them everywhere to stay connected. However, smartphones have become notorious distractions. Unless you must use it to show the other person something pertinent to the conversation, keep the smartphone in your pocket and commit your attention to the conversation.

It’s also important to consider colloquial speech conventions. Sometimes people phrase thoughts like questions but aren’t exactly looking for an answer – they may be asking rhetorically or simply to vent. When you listen carefully it’s much easier to pick up on these cues and know when a response is expected or if the other person is just airing their thoughts in the form of questions.

Summarization and Clarification

During conversations, one tactic that can improve your listening skills is to get in the habit of summarizing what the other person just said. Taking a moment to confirm you heard everything correctly is a fantastic method for preventing miscommunications or misinterpretations. Additionally, most people will appreciate you taking this extra consideration. It shows you value their words and want to ensure you are interpreting their input accurately. This not only improves your listening skills in general, but also helps improve your relationship with that person.

If part of a conversation doesn’t seem to make sense, don’t be afraid to ask the other person to repeat or rephrase what was said. It’s far better to mildly inconvenience the other person by asking for clarification than to incorrectly assume what was said.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

When talking with someone else, it can be tempting to jump on particular thoughts or ideas with answers of your own. While this may seem proactive, it more often than not comes across as rude. Taking the time to fully listen to the other person may address any sudden concerns you have. Try to get out of the habit of interrupting or offering specific answers until the other person has finished his or her thought.

Waiting for the whole story will help you form better responses, as well. If you take the time to carefully listen to the other person, ask for clarification when necessary, and repeat what was said back to the other person to confirm thoughts were accurately conveyed, it’s far easier to compose a thoughtful, relevant response.

Ultimately, the root of good listening is respect. Take the time to ensure you are getting the other person’s thoughts right, and don’t fall into the usual trap of pre-formulating your responses. Good listening helps build trust and rapport, and will strengthen both personal and professional relationships.

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