“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk.” – Doug Larson, columnist
A lot has been spoken about the importance of effective and confident communication, but somehow, this always focuses on how one can improve their speech and be a better speaker. But communication is not a one-way street. No matter how well you speak, you can’t be an effective communicator until you learn how to listen well, too – and that is a lesson most of us could take some special classes for. I cannot stress on this enough, as I already have earlier in my articles about introverts, travellers as well as assertive bosses – listening is a quality not many of us possess, but one that everyone should – not just for professional excellence but also in one’s personal life.
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Now, being a good listener cannot be an overnight process – it’s something you’ll have to constantly strive to achieve. So while nothing we say can actually transform you into one, we sure can provide some quick hacks which will at least put you on the right track and tell you how to begin:
The very first step to being a good listener: stop listening to reply or answer. We all have this habit where we’re listening to someone, but in our heads we’re constantly preparing our answer even before the question is completed. Your focus should be more on trying to understand what the other person is saying, rather than what you will say when they have stopped talking. Having a conversation is not a relay race where one begins talking as soon as the other stops. Spend time trying to really analyse the true intentions behind the spoken words before you start randomly throwing out words into the room.
One easy hack to be a better listener is, just like with storytelling, try convincing yourself that you have to repeat this to someone else later. No matter how boring you’re finding the tirade (you could try storing it in for gossip purposes), try reminding yourself that you have to remember this. This will make you attentive and more present in the moment, stopping you from wandering off and losing track of the conversation.
This is very, very essential – not just for good listening, but also as a morale booster for the speaker opposite you. A strong and unflinching eye-contact (don’t make it creepy, and don’t zone out!) is a great sign of confidence and shows how you’re paying attention to what the other person is saying. It will also keep you alert and stop you from drifting in and out of the conversation because you know the speaker can see your lack of interest. Also, for the love of all things alive and breathing, keep aside your cell phones because it can be really demoralising as a speaker to watch your audience constantly distracted by people who aren’t even around!
Ask as many questions as you can, but not just for the sake of just saying something. Knowing that one’s audience is attentive and actually trying to understand is encouraging to any speaker. This will also help you understand and remember better (point 2), which is the entire purpose of this exercise. Try letting out regular signs that you’re listening, either with questions or by paraphrasing or summarising what the speaker just said. You will notice how your conversations become more meaningful and real to you once you’ve started participating in them.
The best thing about being a good listener is, once the person is done talking, because of your immense patience and attentive listening – they’ll be keener to hear what you have to say! Being a good listener at first, opens doors to having a good audience when you’re speaking later, so that’s a big win-win for both the parties, and a mark of a true and honest conversation!
“We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” – Diogenes
Let’s take this advice seriously and work on being better listeners, heralding a world filled with meaningful conversations and more insightful leadership, shall we?