How to be a good listener: Characteristics and qualities of good listeners
How to be a good listener? Simply listen, would be the practical answer, but it is rarely so in real life. Conversations are ruined by people who just don't have the patience to listen to what other people have to say. Being a good listener involves embracing some of the key qualities and characteristics that are an asset in virtually all situations, a boardroom meeting, project presentation in class or a romantic first date conversation.
1) Don't interrupt: Allow people to finish talking
Not interrupting someone while they speak is common sense, but it is seldom the case. Many people have the habit of butting in and blurting out quick fire opinions before people can even finish what they are speaking.
Learning how to be a good listener is like learning an art and a skill. The most important asset is patience, which in this case translates to exercising restraint and holding back the urge to speak while someone else is speaking.
No matter how desperately you feel like blurting out what you have to say, control this temptation and allow others to finish talking.
2) Give your full attention: Focus on the person speaking, not the environment
Whether you are sitting in a bustling coffee shop or an office boardroom, there could be thousands of distractions around you which may be compelling enough to grab your attention away from the conversation at hand. Avoid darting your eyes to anywhere other than the eyes of the person who is talking to you.
Your constant eye contact will convey to the speaker that he or she has your full attention. Oscillating your eyeballs could leave the speaker distracted and may even hint that you are not interested in the conversation at all.
3) Avoiding the trap of selective listening: Listen to what is being said, not what you want to hear
When someone is talking, it is important to listen to what is being said and not what you want to hear. You may miss out important bits and pieces of a conversation if you constantly seek out words or phrases that you want to hear.
Selective listening is dangerous for personal and professional relationships. It can put you in the habit of conveniently assuming the things that haven't been said.
4) Stop fidgeting: Hyperactive body movements can be distracting
People who are good listeners are generally known to be able to sit calmly and listen to other people talking. They are not likely to be seen playing with their fingers, constantly moving their feet, twitching, fidgeting or showing any signs of uneasiness.
Being calm and patient is a key characteristic of a good listener. Hyperactive body movements can be distracting to you and the speaker. An easy way to control your fidgeting is to take deep breathes whenever you are feeling uneasy, restless or uncomfortable.
5) Avoid reading between the lines unless the situation demands it
Listening and interpreting are interlinked skills because the latter largely depends on the former. Unless you are in a very specific situation where you know that you can't take things at face value, avoid reading between the lines.
Desperate attempts to read between the lines can create a lag between the moment someone speaks and how quickly you absorb it. This will possibly create unnecessary confusion in the conversation and wrong interpretations can be made.
6) Limit your verbal affirmations while someone else is speaking
Many people have the habit of using verbal affirmations and fillers like 'ummhmm', 'Is that so', 'okay' and some such. Overuse of these verbal acknowledgements can become annoying and irritating to the person who is speaking and to other listeners as well.
Use these affirmations only when the person who is speaking takes a long pause or is fishing for a response from you.
7) Use body language to give positive or negative affirmations
Apart from being attentive, listening is also about being receptive to the words spoken by a person. Without uttering a single word, you can control the direction of the conversation with the correct use of nods, smiles and other movements associated with body language communication.
Eye contact, a gentle nod in agreement of what was just said, a slight frown of the eyebrows to show displeasure or confusion, and a smile to show satisfaction are some of the commonly understood signs of communication via body language.
8) Don't change the subject unless you have initiated the conversation
If you are having a conversation with someone and you are not the one who has started the topic, you should not be the one changing it either. Etiquette of listening involves allowing someone to finish giving his or her views.
If you are a proactive and empathetic listener, you should ideally be able to straighten up a meandering conversation and get the person who is speaking, to stick to the subject.
9) Avoid starting a parallel conversation when you are in a group
People talking with each other while being an audience to someone else is not uncommon in meetings and presentations. From the perspective of the person who is doing the talking, it can be distracting and rude.
To be a good listener, give due respect to the person who is talking by not starting a parallel conversation with another listener. Even murmuring or chit chatting with fellow listeners can come across as rude and disrespectful.
10) Good listeners ask questions: Adding value to a conversation
Asking questions after someone has finished speaking is a technique that you, as a listener, can use to add value to the conversation. You may also be able to encourage people to open up by infusing inquisitiveness and conveying that you have closely followed the conversation.
Wait for the right moment and ask your question when the person who is talking, takes a long pause.
11) Control your responses: Good listeners don't give away their emotions
One of the most subtle yet important tactics in the art of listening is not letting your own responses and reactions govern the direction of the conversation, unless required. A good listener allows people to finish talking and also allows them to get their point across in a manner they had envisaged before starting to talk.
If you must react while listening, give measured responses that do not make the speaker alter what he or she was just about to say. Don't opine, object, poke fun, laugh, impose, reject or trivialize something instantly. Take a pause and wait before you respond. It may be likely that the person will continue speaking without you having to worry about responding at all.
12) Imposing reconfirmation: Outline what was just said
Suppose you are listening to someone talking about a sensitive or an important matter. It could be your boss asking you to change the course of the current project you are working on, or your friend asking you to stop talking to a girl from class. After listening to the person giving you an elaborate talk ending with a request to comply or request to act in a certain way, you may want to reconfirm the same without having him or her to repeat the drama all over again.
You can do this by summarizing what that person said in a line or two and leaving an open ended question along the lines of 'So this is what you want me to do, right?' The person is likely to respond affirmatively and reassure you of his or her request.
Outlining and restating the crux of the conversation can impose a reconfirmation on the part of the speaker, without the listener having to dig deeper.
13) Observe the body language of the person who is speaking
Being a good listener just doesn't end at keeping your mind and ears open. An important part of understanding what people have to say is reading their body language for emotions that they may not verbalize.
For example, not keeping eye contact can be interpreted as a sign that the person may not be entirely truthful. Fidgeting, shivering and excessive sweating while talking is seen as a sign of nervousness. An aggressive stance may imply an attempt to assert dominance. These were just some classic examples and you will need to hone your skills to be able to judge people's motives from their body languages.
Summarizing the post: You are not being a good listener if
- You keep interrupting people when they are talking
- You are easily distracted by your surroundings
- You only listen to what you want to hear
- You continuously try to read between the lines
- You constantly keep fidgeting, play with your hands or move uneasily
- You have a blank expression all the time
- You start talking with other listeners when someone is speaking
- You change the subject
- You are quick to opine, reject or respond with a knee jerk reaction
- You don't observe the body language of people who speak