Five Tips to Be a Better Listener

Did you hear the shouting over the weekend? In the streets, in the news, on social media – so much shouting. Was anyone actually listening?

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we are able to hear each other at all.  With different behavioral styles, generational and political differences and a full range of experiences and emotions, are we hopelessly lost in believing that we can make a genuine connection with others?

Perhaps it can be summed up best in this quote by Stephen R. Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

I believe we can become better listeners.  We just have to slow down and be deliberate in our approach.

Here are five tips to help you be a better listener:

  1. It’s not about you. We have long believed and taught that the perspective of the other person is the lens through which everything should be examined. However, it’s easy to engage in conversational narcissism – the tendency to turn to your experiences to continue the conversation – by using phrases such as “The same thing happened to me…” The fact is, it is unlikely that the exact same thing happened to you. Instead, just listen to the other person. Ask thoughtful questions, and then listen. You may learn something.
  2. Show empathy. Sympathy and empathy are often confused. Sympathy is compassion or sorrow felt for someone who is going through hardship. Empathy, on the other hand, is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, making the effort to comprehend their emotional reality. Not everyone wants compassion, but people appreciate others who make the effort to understand them.
  3. Be present (and pay attention). You’ve probably heard of the idea of “active listening” – providing various non-verbal cues to demonstrate that you are listening.  Rather than focusing on providing the right cues, just be a good listener by removing as many distractions as you can.  Put your cell phone away, turn off screens and listen intently.
  4. Acknowledge your differences. It’s okay to have different perspectives, communication styles, political beliefs, and even world views.  That doesn’t make one person bad and the other good. You’re just different. Acknowledge and accept those differences and most of all, treat each other with respect.
  5. Just ask. When in doubt, just ask the other person.  One simple approach is simply to ask, “I’ve noticed that we’re not connecting as well as we could be.  What can I do differently to understand you better?”  By taking a break to engage in some metacommunication, you have an opportunity to reset and just listen.

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “big ears, small mouth” or that each of us was born with two ears and one mouth…for a reason! Sometimes all you need to do is listen.

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