Humans are narcissistic by nature. Prone to think about ourselves and our agenda, we occasionally find it challenging to sit still and listen to someone else. In our post last week, we shared some techniques that can help you get through a difficult conversation. One of those tips asked you to consider how the other person might react or respond when faced with a tough discussion.
But, if you’ve never listened to the person, really listened, how would you know what that particular person may or may not do?
If you’re looking to improve your relationships, become a better leader, and an overall better person, listening is one of the best ways to do it. Here are a few ways you can become a better listener:
It sounds easy, but this is the hardest one for me. I have a tendency to jump in and start trying to commiserate with the person or show them that I understand before they’re even finished speaking. Instead of breaking in or interrupting natural conversational pauses, let the other person take a breath and keep going. Let them finish before you react.
Try not to talk about yourself.
It’s natural to want to share your experiences with others to show them that you understand and believe you can give them insight. But, you can very quickly come across as self-absorbed if you take someone else’s experience and make it about yourself. If someone wants to tell you about a bad date, let them tell the whole story and then focus on that. It’s not always necessary to share your story too. It may be funny, but you don’t need to automatically remind everyone of that one time you went on a date and accidentally threw a beer across the bar, and it broke on the wall.
Whenever I do this, I feel bad that I took some attention away from the person I’m talking to.
Now, if the person asks you to share your story, feel free. But it’s OK to save that story about yourself for another time.
Repeat back what you heard.
If you’ve ever attended a meeting, you’ve probably heard someone say, “So, to summarize what we talked about…” I’ve never really liked it when people say that, but it’s a pretty smart listening technique. In a professional setting, repeating what you heard helps everyone be clear on the discussion that took place and any follow-up steps.
In a personal setting, you may need to frame it another way. Instead of “To summarize what we talked about…,” you could try, “It sounds like you…”
Ask more questions.
Be that precocious child that asks for more information. You don’t have to keep asking, “Why?” (that could get annoying fast), but you could always ask for a little more information.
“What makes you say that?”
“Why do you think that happened?”
“What can I do to help you?”
“What do you think feels right?”
“Can you remind me what prompted that?”
Asking questions relevant to the discussion shows that you’re listening and that you care.
It’s impossible to remember everything you hear in a day. Small details, like the name of someone’s partner or their upcoming birthday, can easily slip through the cracks. If you’re having a discussion at work, there’s a good chance you have a pen and a piece of paper handy. Jot down a few notes. If you don’t have something to take notes on, you can wait until the conversation is over and then make a note on your phone. (Refrain from taking your phone out during the conversation. The fewer distractions you have, the better!)
I’m always so impressed when someone remembers minute details about me, like the name of my pet or the book I recommended to them. Writing things down also erases the need to ask someone, for the third time, “What’s your boyfriend’s name again?”
We’re taught from a young age to be good listeners, but it’s not always something we think about as adults. Consider trying one or two of these techniques during your next conversation at home or at work and see what happens!