No one enjoys a conversation where they feel like they are not being fully listened to. You know those conversations with a friend or a sibling, and it is obvious they are not paying attention? Although frustrating, it is acceptable to direct the attention of people with whom you have a close relationship with back to the conversation. In other instances such as in a conversation with someone you just met or even more unfortunate, a professional interview, it is not quite as appropriate to convey one’s feelings of not being intentionally heard.
Although it is often overlooked, the skill of listening is pivotal to be a good communicator. Communication with a person is meant to be two-way. If one person is not actively listening to the other, the information communicated is not being digested and expanded upon with intention, therefore the communication becomes one-way.
The act of listening goes beyond simply gathering information or understanding one’s point of view. Listening allows us to uncover compelling stories and discover the depths of other human minds, even in seemingly normal conversations. More importantly, intentional listening forms bonds and a sense of trust between people.
Fortunately, there are ways to actively improve your listening skills so that you can avoid being the person who makes someone feel disregarded, intentional or not.
It’s Not About You
Often people wait their turn in conversations to speak and contribute their views or opinions, without truly comprehending or upholding what the other person is communicating. If you struggle with this, start to implement the feedforward approach. This concept involves asking questions and confirming that you understand what the other person is articulating. Try to refrain from replying with your views or commenting on the validity of theirs. We become better listeners by fighting the urge to form our own thoughts while others are speaking.
To stay focused in conversation, concentrate on collecting facts, rather than making judgments about what someone is saying. If you find yourself straying off into your own thoughts, such as what you will eat for dinner, simply recognize that you are distracted, then bring yourself back to the conversation at hand.
Arguably, the biggest barrier to productive listening is preconceived notions. It is important to avoid listening through filters or discerning for something in particular. Listening is about being open, so put your expectations aside when communicating with others.
Assume Everyone Has a Story to Tell
Part of our role as communicators is to uncover stories. To do that, listen for pieces of powerful emotion or detail. Words have more weight than one may think, and they are the tools that make communication influential and compelling. Listen to the power of the words being spoken. Ask follow-up questions to dive deeper. For instance, you can ask “Why?,” “Such as?” or “And then?” to be intentional and make the other person feel heard.
Effectively communicating is something everyone can continually improve upon, and developing listening skills is a good starting point. Being a good listener will not only improve your communication, but it will make someone else feel appreciated too.
Written by: Delaney Niemeyer