What did you say? Can you repeat that?
You might hear me say this when my husband tries to talk to me when I’m on the computer. Or maybe he says it to me when he is lost in his book, and I interrupt his designated morning reading time. After 20-plus years of marriage, it isn’t said in anger but as a reminder that tuning in and taking time to hear your spouse is vital.
Being a good listener is a daily requirement for so many of us. So how can we grow that skill and be even better? Here are a few tips.
You can’t be a good listener if you are always talking. Pause and let your conversation partner say what they need to say. This may mean physically biting your lip or gripping your teeth together. Whatever it takes. For extreme cases, ask a friend to give a discreet sign when you need to stop talking. Maybe touching an earlobe or looking at their watch.
Now that you’ve stopped talking focus on your body language. First, look the other person in the eye. Keep your concentration on them. Don’t look out the window or around the room. If the environment is distracting, suggest moving to a different location or having the conversation at a different time.
I know that Michael is really engaged in the conversation when he remembers what I’ve said. This doesn’t mean he recites my words verbatim. He listens and then says it back in his own words so I have confirmation that what I have communicated makes sense. This is especially important if the conversation is turning a little tenser. Hearing what I’ve said come back to me validates me (or possibly makes me pause to consider if that is really what I meant).
Asking follow-up questions is similar to repeating back and is another good way to demonstrate you are listening. Asking simple questions to show you are turned in helps the other person feel like what they are saying is valuable. When you go to think of a question, build on what they have said. “You mentioned that it was difficult to find a part. Why is that?” “I heard you say that the trip was delayed. What happened?”
But don’t focus so much on what questions to ask that you miss what is being said. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
Make it a game. There are daily opportunities to start a conversation with a new person and practice your skills. The next time you are in line at the grocery store or on a bus. Maybe you get to a meeting early or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. See if you can start a conversation and then just listen. Hear what the other person has to say. Keep the information about your own life minimal. The goal of the game is to walk away knowing more about the other person than they know about you.
Keep your thoughts on track
As you listen, it may be challenging to think of questions without your thoughts drifting. To avoid this resume, focus simply on their words. If I’m really struggling with staying in the moment, I will mentally repeat every word to myself, of course. This helps me to stay on track with the conversation. Then when there is a pause, I can repeat back what they said or just give a confirmation.
Read all about it
My first recommendation for anyone wanting to be a better listener is to read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Despite being written in the last century, Dale Carnegie gives timeless advice for connecting with people by hearing what they have to say. A newer book that will provide you with some ideas is You’re not listening: what you’re missing and why it matters by Kate Murphy.
I hope these tips help you be a better listener today. Let me know what tips I missed or what you appreciate in a great listener.