Since I was little, I’ve always been told I have two ears and one mouth so I can listen twice as much as I speak. But somehow one of the chief complaints in many relationships (not just my own!) is “She doesn’t listen.” How can this be? I heard everything that was being said…but was I listening?
I finally decided to learn how to be a better listener. The following are just a few of the tips I want to pass on to you. Remember, learning to truly listen takes time and practice, but you have to start somewhere. Why not right here?
YOU’RE NOT MISSING ANYTHING
I know how real FOMO is. I’ve been there. I’ve been that person who looks at their phone, puts it down, and picks it back up to look again all in the same minute. This article is not about beating FOMO but you can take a step to both begin the FOMO battle and be a better listener: Put your phone down. There are few things as frustrating as being in the middle of a conversation and having the other person pick up their phone. The message that is sent to the other person is simple: Our conversation isn’t important to me.
IF YOU DON’T KNOW, DON’T GUESS
Asking questions is important for two main reasons:
1. Ensuring you understand everything that is being said
Simple, right? You’re asking for clarification. Sometimes when someone is talking, they skip parts they thought you knew, or their brain is working faster than their mouth and the omit things. (No? I’m the only one who does that?) Clarifying questions will give you the rest of the information so that you can properly respond.
2. Opening the conversation for deeper discussion
Rather than clarifying, this is more for reflecting. If someone is telling you a story and they mention they no longer trust their coworker, wait until they finish (don’t interrupt!) and then ask, “You mentioned you no longer trust your coworker. Did something happen?”
YOU ARE NOT JUDGE JUDY
Listening without judgment is the key to empathetic listening. Letting someone finish their thought without interruption can be so hard when you’ve already formed an opinion, so try to suspend judgment. This will not happen overnight, but with time you’ll be able to put yourself into their shoes and understand their point of view (even if it isn’t one you agree with).
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
We’ve all been in the middle of something when a friend calls to talk. Most of us will take the call anyway and end up giving neither our friend nor our original task our full attention. (No? Just me again?) Instead, be honest. “Listen Sue, I was just helping Joe with dinner. Can I call you back in 15 minutes?” Assuming you’re someone who actually returns calls, that’s all it takes. Call back when you can give your full attention, and your friend will appreciate you for it.
YOU ARE NOT ON THE DEBATE TEAM
OK, so maybe you ARE on the debate team, but this is not Debate Club. Calm down. Not everything that is said needs an immediate and snappy response. There’s a time and place for witty banter. Read the room. Sometimes it’s better to be kind than right.
I’VE ALREADY MENTIONED THIS ONE
I’ve touched on this twice, but it requires its own section. Be an active listener. Giving your undivided attention is free; it costs you nothing and you will be better for it. Don’t interrupt. Once your friend has finished speaking, formulate your response. Pausing before you respond allows you to process everything that was said, all the way down to the last word, and have a complete picture. Misunderstandings can stem from not actively listening as well as pre-judging and not asking clarifying questions.
These are the major points that have helped me to be a better listener. But don’t be too hard on yourself, friend. Everybody – including me – is guilty of at least one of these behaviors on the regular. Becoming a better listener is a process, but it’s a process that is worth starting. The reward is great! Once you start listening to others, they start listening to you. And who doesn’t want to be heard?