We all like to think we are good listeners (just like we all like to think we have a good sense of style and excellent choice in music), but we don’t always demonstrate this quality in our day-to-day conversations.
How many times have you zoned out in the middle of a meeting, missing minutes of a colleague’s presentation before you realized your mind was wandering? How many times have you nodded blankly while an employee updated you on a project because you were really thinking about your own to-do list? With just a little extra focus, you can break these habits and become a better listener.
Hone Your Active Listening Skills
1. Stop thinking about what you want to say next.
If you are formulating your own points and counterpoints, you aren’t fully listening to what someone else is saying. Practice keeping your mind open and really hearing what the other person is trying to communicate. Ask follow-up questions and listen to the answers without jumping in with your own thoughts right away.
2. Use responsive body language.
Become a better listener by showing your attentiveness with non-verbal communication. Look at the person is speaking, make eye contact and nod or use facial expressions to demonstrate that you are paying attention. Don’t fidget, stare off into space or play with your computer or smartphone.
3. Allow for silences.
Resist the urge to fill every pause with your own input. Leave room for comfortable silences in your conversation — it gives participants time to think and process information and can cool down heated debates.
4. Explore open-ended questions.
Ask questions that you don’t know the answers to and that draw the other person deeper into critical thinking. For example, “What led you to that conclusion?” or “What do you think is an alternative way to address that problem?” Show that you are curious about the other person’s thought process and respect his or her opinion.