Are you a good listener, a good talker or somewhere in-between? We live in times where voicing an opinion is actively encouraged; We won’t sit back and take it on the chin, and this is a good thing. But listening is also a vital part of communication. Are we in danger of talking too much? Did the art of listening get lost along the path to speaking up?
The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply. - Stephen R. Covey
The current climate is undoubtably putting a strain on human interaction. The lack of office banter, family gatherings and carefree nights out with friends make existing relationships hard to maintain. If meeting new acquaintances already proved a challenge, adding a screen or a two–metre distance between you and the aforementioned was never going to help. Listening, and I mean really listening (not just hearing; there’s a difference), is the essential item you need in your survival toolkit.
Listening is the key to building and maintaining solid relationships; How many good friendships start by sharing funny stories, then secrets, then advice? Family and good friends may know you better than you know yourself, giving a new perspective on something you may not see. It sounds obvious, but if you listen at work, you’re going to understand the brief a lot better. Your genuine interest puts you ahead of the game, demonstrating commitment and reliability.
So, are you ready to improve your listening skills?
Establish the talking/listening balance
Start by spending a little more time listening than you do talking and bring this into your awareness. Rather than jumping in with your opinion before hearing the whole story (or worse, waiting to announce your unrelated news), expand on the topic by asking questions based on what they’ve said.
Make eye contact
There is nothing worse than pouring your heart out to someone who is distracted by their phone/looking at everyone but you/yawning. Really engage with the person by giving your undivided attention. They have given up time to spend with you.
Mirror their expressions
You don’t need to copy them exactly, that would be a bit weird, but sharing their smile, frown or rage displays empathy. It demonstrates an understanding of how they feel; Nodding and shaking your head at the right time shows you’re on their side.
When there’s a pause in the conversation, repeat back the main points you’ve managed to decipher; This illustrates how you’ve got to grips with what they’re saying. With work, it illustrates a clear understanding of the brief and assures the client/work colleague you’re in control.
Manage an overtalker
Some people love (and don’t stop) talking. It can be hard to get a word in and they can leave you feeling drained. You don’t want the balance to tip completely and become a sounding board, just be patient and take deep breaths. The chances are this person doesn’t have a stop button because they’re never listened to. You can move it on and show you have understood by saying, “Let me interrupt you…”, and asking a relevant question. If there really is no end in sight, politely wrap it up by asking, “So what happened?” or, “What do you think you should do?”. It might take a little practice, but the over talker should begin to realise you’re listening and really value your time.
Balancing self-care with thinking of others is more prevalent now than ever but practising good listening will really benefit you too. If you listen, it shows you care, and you’re more likely to be listened to. You’ll build confidence through positive relationships as your network of professional and personal allies continues to grow.
Conversations will be based on a mutual understanding, and pausing to listen and digest will minimise confusion, misunderstandings and conflict. Talking is merely sharing information. Listening is how we learn.