How to Be a Great Listener
What if something you already do could make you more attractive and interesting to everyone you come across, help you win friends and debates, make you more intelligent and improve your memory - if you did more of it?
What is this magic elixir that could do the same for your children?
It's nothing fancier than good old fashioned listening. We all do it to a greater or lesser extent. Some people are really good at it - you probably know them as they're the ones we feel drawn to because their listening skills give them all of the above.
Studies show that we forget up to 75% of what we hear, which means that if your child spends 10 minutes telling you about his day, you might remember as little as 2 minutes of what he said. And when he listens to you...!
What stops us listening?
To listen properly we need to start with ourselves and by getting out of our own way. There are things we do that prevent us listening and hearing what people are saying.
These things include noise - such as the general background noise, but also the noise of our own thoughts that can get in the way of what someone else is saying. How often do you find yourself wondering what's for dinner, if your husband has remembered to pick up the kids, if he's having an affair etc etc?
If we lose focus on the other person we can miss essential parts of what they're saying and if we've really wandered off track, our replies can seem odd and give us away.
And even if you're listening you're probably also lining up a response or getting your arguments in order so that you can agree or disagree.
Peter Thomson is someone who knows the answer to these problems. He's the author of 'The Secrets of Communication - How to be Heard and Get Results. He recommends silently repeating the speaker’s words in your head as s/he talks. Just the last 5-10 words and this serves to keep you focused on what's being said as well as improving your memory because you're effectively hearing it twice - once from the speaker and once from yourself.
What's great about this is that it's really easy to learn and the more your practise the better you become at pushing your own self-talk (what's for dinner/is he cheating etc) out of the way. Your brain juggles what the other person has just said as well as what they're currently saying without dropping either ball.
Peter Thomson's books
Here are some more tips for good listening.
- Look directly at the speaker
- Maintain good eye contact - but don't stare (that's just scary!)
- Nod and give positive strokes for the other person to continue - 'yeah', 'uh-huh' etc.
- If you're really focused on the speaker you'll probably automatically mirror their body language, but while you're sharpening your skills, look at how they're sitting or standing and copy them. This subconsciously helps you understand how their feeling but also helps them understand that you're in tune with the conversation.
- Smile or use the right facial expressions. Again, when you're in the flow of listening this will come naturally.
- Suspend you prejudices, judgements and assumptions and listen with an open mind. A person who has done something that you would never consider probably has his/her reasons.
- If you don't understand something or your mind does wander for a moment, ask the speaker for clarity.
- Hold your tongue and resist the temptation to jump in and interrupt. The replay exercise above should help with this and when the other person has finished speaking, a little pause before you make your contribution will add to the considered nature of your response.
- On a practical level, turn off your mobile phone (or at least switch it to silent, although 'vibrate' settings cause a farmyard noise which can be equally off-putting!) and put it in your pocket or purse. When someone checks email or messages while you're talking it says 'there's something here that's more important than you'. If you're expecting an important call then get the other person's consent to take it if it arrives during your conversation.
Adding to your quality of life.
Good listening is about respect for the other person and, as Peter Thompson says 'seeking first to understand before you seek to be understood'. This way you'll hear the meaning as well as the words of the message the other person is giving you. They're not always the same thing.
Now you know why you're drawn to charismatic people - they're good listeners and this makes them good company. So go forth and be one of them! Listening skills take a little practice like anything else, but the results can be well worth the effort in the enrichment they bring to life.