You want to impress your boss with your novel idea before anyone else says it, so you interrupt. You categorically disagree with your wife’s view on politics so you butt in to straighten her out. You start planning your day while your child is telling you the same old knock-knock joke they always do and misses the punch line. You wonder why no one listens to you. You can’t seem to get anyone’s attention. The thing is that listening is a gift and if you don’t give it? You don’t get it.
It’s so easy in a world of constant distraction, a presidential election, and task-switching to just give up on the generous act of listening. Active listening is an investment and it’s not readily apparent when it will pay off. I believe that active listening–or as Stephen Covey defines it, “listening to understand”–is the single greatest gift you can give anyone. Everyone has a deep-seated need to be heard. Deeply heard.
Here are the 8 tricks to being a better listener:
- Turn off the noise. If it’s possible, try and find a quiet place. If you are in the middle of a rock concert, it’s probably not a good idea to decide to start listening. There is often a lot of background noise, so shut off the television, turn off your phone and close the door. When you prepare the space to listen, the other person, whether it be a co-worker or family member, feels respected as you prepare for them to speak.
- Shut down technology. There is nothing more disrespectful than someone checking their phone while you are talking. It’s essentially saying that what might possibly be on this phone (be it an Instagram notification or junk email) is more important than you. Since most of us are addicted to our devices, turn it off so that the temptation is gone. Set the stage to be a good listener.
- Mirror their posture. So if they lean in, you lean in. If they cross their arms, you cross your arms. Don’t go overboard and mimic every raised finger or eyebrow. It needs to be subtle but the mirroring helps you connect. As the article “Mirroring in Body Language” in Psychologia states, “Mirroring body language is a non-verbal way to say ‘I am like you, I feel the same.’ The research shows that people who experience the same emotions are likely to experience mutual trust, connection and understanding.” Make a better connection through mirroring.
- Get present. Mindfulness training like meditation or yoga can help with this. It’s time to quiet the mind. You can be more open to any direction in conversation when you are in the moment. Let the grocery list go and forget about the weather report. Relax and be in the moment.
- Don’t talk. This can be incredibly difficult for extroverts like myself. I have a ton of ideas I want to spill out. I have this feeling that I need to express everything that is in my head before I forget it. What I realize now is that if I forget it, it probably wasn’t that special anyway. And if it is that unique or special, it will eventually bubble up again down the road. It can even give you the opportunity to go back to the person and say, “I was thinking about our talk and…” They will feel heard and acknowledged. For the introverts out there, this is as easy as pie. Keep your mouth shut.
- First seek to understand. This is a tenet by Stephen R. Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” At this point, it’s ok to ask clarifying questions, like, “How did you feel when he said that to you?” or “What was the impact of that on you?” or “What are you learning about yourself?” These are all questions focused on the speaker. It’s not: “Can I come too?”; or a judgment: “That guy is a jerk.” Clarifying questions help you understand the speaker’s point of view.
- Don’t let the influence of accents or slang put you on the defensive. As Skills You Need states, “Everybody has a different way of speaking – some people are for example more nervous or shy than others, some have regional accents or make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace whilst talking – others like to sit still. Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.” Let go of your personal prejudice and be open to the message, regardless of the mode of expression.
- Everyone is right…partially. This is a tenet of CRR Global. Everyone owns a piece of the truth, but not all of it. I can feel like the “Corrector in Chief” which will make me jump in and pronounce a word correctly for someone or, worse yet, actually finish their sentence. Let the speaker own their message and deliver it. If you agree or not. That is not the question. It is all about listening and understanding the intended message. This is not a debate and there are no winners. Everyone is right…partially.
Growing up my father was always a good listener. He would ask probing questions and listen to the answer. Patiently. It was a gift to have that as a child growing up. And he still listens. I hope I can give the same gift to my children and all the other people in my life.