We all know what it feels like to be ignored. It could feel anywhere from awkward to rude, but it is most definitely a feeling we’d rather not experience. What happens, though, when we are the bad listener?
We all generally believe ourselves to be good listeners, but here’s the hard truth: we could all improve the way we listen to others. Listening is a silent favor we offer others, and we rarely reflect on how we’re doing at it. We may not talk about our listening skills, but when you’re doing it right you’re bound to see the effects.
Listening is a social skill we teach our children, but as they grow into adults the lesson seems to fade as they develop individual personalities. No matter the age, anyone can learn to listen better. Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, shy, talkative or anxious about social interactions, you can use active listening to improve your conversations and build stronger relationships.
Why bother listening better?
When we listen to others we engage in a cyclical pattern. People generally enjoy sharing about themselves, and they respond happily when their audience (even if it’s just you) remains engaged. When people feel heard, they are more inclined to listen to you in return. You have shown respect, and they’ll repay you accordingly.
This is how all friendships and romantic relationships are built. You’ll notice that people connect best when there is balance in a conversation. Sharing and encouraging another to share is the fastest way to bond with someone. Being an active listener can help us to negotiate, advocate, avoid conflict and progress in any relationship.
It could be said that the effectiveness of relationships all boils down to communication. When we truly know what the other person is saying, we can come to solutions, realizations and connections that aren’t possible when we’re distracted with our own thoughts.
What is active listening?
Active listening is the art of listening to hear what another person is trying to communicate, rather than what you assume or want the person to communicate. So often we only listen until we’re ready to respond. Active listening requires that we remain actively attentive to verbal and non-verbal language.
Check out these tips for how to listen to people better.
Use Natural Body language
There’s a misconception that nodding your head and smiling shows someone that you are listening. This is true when they’re organic, but sometimes people get so caught up in trying to look like good listeners that they distract themselves from actually hearing what’s being shared.
Your body language and posture will come naturally when you are sincerely interested in what the person is saying. Faking interest is easily noticed. Instead, open yourself up to new perspectives so that you are actually invested. When you come to the mindset that you truly have something to learn from anyone and everyone, you’ll find those mundane conversations more meaningful and you’ll know how to tolerate different opinions.
Pay attention to the main message
When you are actively listening, you should be able to answer these two crucial questions:
- What is the main point?
- Does what the person says about the topic agree with how the person is feeling about the topic?
Don’t let these questions consume you while you are listening. They will naturally be answered when you are giving your full attention to someone and investing time in what he or she has to say. These are more guiding reflections as you learn not just how to listen, but what to listen for.
Invest time to improve listening skills
One of the best tips, and hardest to follow, is to forget about the time while you are listening. Some conversations may not feel like an efficient use of your time, but investing in people is always worth it. If you’re wondering how to listen better at work, set aside time to actively engage with coworkers. Set boundaries if you need to, but make a gift of your time to listen.
An active listener will also participate in the conversation. Show you’re engaged by asking relevant questions about the subject at hand. At times, it will be useful to add in personal comments or even a story, but some conversations warrant listening more than you speak. Maintain a careful balance by gauging the situation to see when you should mainly be a listener, or when it’s more appropriate to share the conversation.
Another helpful tip: at the conclusion of your conversation, express appreciation that you were able to share that time with them. It feels amazing to be appreciated and acknowledged, and hopefully the person will begin returning the favor.
People communicate all day long, and whether you’re wondering how to listen better to friends or how to listen better at work, you can benefit from the art of active listening. Keep these skills in mind and you’re bound to maintain better relationships, enhance productivity and find more enjoyment in conversations.
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