The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” In short, the philosopher suggests spending more time listening and less time talking. Other individuals have offered similar quotations regarding the need to listen above the need to speak. In today’s modern world, taking time out to listen instead of instantly saying the contents of one’s mind has become the norm. Due to this, you may struggle to naturally listen when others speak, regardless of the speaker.
Thankfully, this is not something you need to accept. There are ways to improve your listening ability, which in turn helps improve your overall level of communication. Here are seven of the best tricks to enhance your listening skills.
1. Eye Contact
Maintaining eye contact is an important step in becoming an excellent listener. It connects you with the speaker. It also prevents your mind from wandering. By maintaining eye contact you’ll increase your ability to stay focused on the discussion. Eye contact also shows the speaker you are interested in what they have to say. When people feel like you genuinely show interest in their ideas or topics of conversation, they are more likely to open-up to you, share essential details and develop a new level of respect. All of this plays a necessary role in your quest to become not just a better listener, but also a better person.
2. Keep an Open Mind
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock or with your head in the ground for the past few decades, we live in a pretty divided world. People cling to their ideologies and ways of thinking with a steel grip. I’m not saying there is nothing wrong with having your own belief system. There aren’t two people on this planet who think the same on everything. However, if you go into a conversation with a closed mind, you’ll never actually hear what the person is saying. A closed mind is a mental equivalent to erecting a giant roadblock, preventing any intellectual thought from moving back and forth. You may never completely agree with what someone has to tell you, but they may offer you a different way of looking at something. You never know where your next great idea might originate or whom you’ll learn a life lesson from. If you listen with an open mind, you’ll maintain the ability to learn and potentially educate yourself in a way you didn’t think possible.
3. Don’t Interrupt
Have you ever jumped into the middle of a person’s monologue-like story, only to have that person say they were just getting to the point? There are a few problems with butting into a person’s story and interrupting them. Beyond killing the overall flow of what the person is saying and derailing their conversational momentum, it comes across as rude. It makes it look like you’re not only adding to what the person is saying, but also interjecting yourself, to elevate your overall appearance. You may have friends who continually interrupt the stories and talks of others. When it becomes a habit, others become less likely to go into detail or even want to hold conversations with the person. There will be times where someone says something you feel the need to refute, or that you completely disagree with. When this happens, you’ll want to say something, but instead, try to hold back and simply listen. You may discover by not interrupting you not only learn more about the person talking, but you’ll give the individual ample opportunity to fully explain their idea, stance or point of view.
4. Ditch the Stereotypes
You’ve been told to “never judge a book by its cover” nearly your entire life. The saying extends well beyond hardcovers at your local library though. Never judge someone by their appearance as it instantly distracts you from listening to what they are saying. It is human nature to take all your past experiences and mentally anticipate what someone may say and how they might react. Humans have relied on this since before the development of language and established settlements. By relying on past interactions and activities, a person could increase their ability to identify danger. The problem modern humanity faces though is the brain doesn’t just process personal interactions, but it often incorporates what is seen and heard through news stories, entertainment programs and everything else in between. Due to this, the brain may incorrectly rely on media-created stereotypes when interacting with someone new.
To truly listen to someone, it is vital for you to ditch any kind of mental stereotype of the person. While where a person comes from plays a role in their own understanding of the world, it does not dictate what they have to say or how they think. So never allow stereotypes to alter how you listen to someone. The Greek philosopher Epictetus was poor and lived in shambles. Few would call Abraham Lincoln an attractive man. Martin Luther King Jr. lived in a time of increased segregation, hatred and the spreading of stereotypes to the extreme. Despite all of this, these individuals not only proved to be eloquent and important speakers, but each played a vital part in changing the way people today see the world. To truly hear someone, you need to break free of any judgments you might have of someone. This includes mental stereotypes.
5. Kill the Distractions
Babies have the amazing capability of absorbing everything around them and learning from it. They don’t attend lectures or seminars. They don’t read textbooks and they aren’t trying to learn new languages through mobile applications and expensive computer software. They learn for two reasons: First, their brain is continually growing and expanding. Second, babies are free of self-created distractions. While the attention span of a baby is short, even distractions prove enlightening. However, as a baby ages into a child, teenager and finally an adult, the ability to quickly absorb information diminishes. How can this be when our ability to focus increases over time? There are simply more environmental, physical and mental distractions. External noises such as a dog barking or the honking of a horn will distract everyone from babies to adults. However, psychological distractions, such as worrying, anxiety, self-consciousness and other thought processes all develop as people age.
Babies are not self-conscious or have anxiety. These are traits learned over time. Checking emails, answering phone calls, updating social media and looking up the news are other forms of distractions babies just don’t deal with. If you want to become a better listener, kill the distractions. If someone comes to talk to you at work, close out your computer to free yourself of these constantly updating websites. Before going into a meeting, clear your mind of thoughts on relationships and out-of-work problems. These will inhibit your ability to focus on what an individual has to say. You will need to practice this as it can prove far more difficult than you might think, but the better you become at removing distractions, you’re better a listener you’ll develop into.
6. Demonstrate Your Listening
Step one already mentioned the importance of eye contact. It is an essential step in becoming a better listener and showing a person that you are, in fact, listening and engaged. However, it is just one of many ways you need to show the speaker you are listening and considering what they have to say. Beyond eye contact, make sure to nod your head (for great examples, watch the non-speaking host of talk shows, news programs or sporting events to see how they nod and focus on the other host) and make sure to provide verbal confirmations (such as asking questions when the opportunity arises, adding in affirmative dialog like “yes,” “okay” or even “mmm-hmm”).
7. Watch Your Negative Body Language
Always remember that for every action, there is a reaction. No matter how you act, there will always be a flip side to the equation. As you demonstrate to someone that you are listening and open to their conversation, there are also ways to appear disconnected as well. Some of the ways you might turn a speaker off from you include crossing your arms (you look closed off), not making eye contact, not engaging with questions, leaning in the opposite direction of the speaker or multitasking (like being on your phone). So, make sure to avoid these negative forms of body language. If you don’t, you may not need to practice your listening skills as people will stop opening to you in the first place.
Establishing good listening skills now is essential. No matter where you want to end up in life, listening likely will play an important role in the process. While taking the time to listen instead of talking comes naturally to some more than others, there are ways to learn listening skills. By taking advantage of these seven tricks to enhance your listening skills, you’ll not only improve your abilities as a listener, but before you know it you’ll find attentive listening becomes second nature
Tell Us –
How would you rate your listening skills? What areas do you feel you need to make improvements?