Say, you just finished having a conversation with a friend. Wait for about an hour, and try to recall the interaction. How much of it do you think you can do?
Studies suggest that we remember less than 20% of what we listen to. That is, within only an hour. Imagine then, how much the number would further dwindle, after an even longer period. Humans are one among the plethora of species that inhabit the planet. But what has given us an edge, to unjustly proclaim our superiority, is our ability to communicate. We take pride in being able to articulate our thoughts and convey them to one another. Communication is a two-way street and listening constitutes an integral part of doing it effectively. Ironically, though, 9 out of 10 people are poor listeners.
Lucky for us, listening is a skill. It can be learned and progressively, even sharpened. If you are here looking to become an active listener, here are 8 impressive strategies that can help you out.
1) Be present
For the majority of our lives, there is always something that demands our attention. So much so, that at times, we feel the need to attend to more than one simultaneously. We listen to lessons while cooking, we’re on the phone making important calls while driving, or we’re having a conversation while watching a movie. This seems like a plus since we seem to get a lot more done. However, research suggests that working on multiple tasks at the same time reduces productivity by 40%. So to reap rewarding results from what you do, limit your attention to one thing at a time.
The same goes when it comes to listening. When you are in a situation that you know calls for your listening skills, try and be there. Only there. All and completely. Try not to focus on anything else going on in your life, but what the speaker is saying. When someone is taking the time and has mustered up the courage to open up to you, the least you can do is to be attentive. Don’t just hear, listen.
2) Be patient
Remember that getting your point across is not the most important thing. Do not be in a rush to tell what you want. Devote equal time and attention to what the other person has to say. If all your energy is being focussed on preparing what to say, how would you know if you are saying the right thing? Especially, since you haven’t been paying attention to what is being said to you. You can craft your response only based on the conversation that ensues. So if you’re preoccupied with it, you probably won’t be able to contribute to it.
Listen patiently, without interrupting the speaker. If you want to comment on something or do not agree with something that has been said, you may speak up. But do not cut in. Remember what you want to say, and bring it up once the person is done speaking.
Both the river and the lake carry water. The river is in motion, in a rush to get somewhere. The lake, however, sits still. When you look at a river you cannot discern what is beneath it. Are there rocks underneath? Are there fish in it? The lake shows that being still can communicate a lot more. Be patient. You don’t need to say the first thing that pops up in your head. Take some time to think about what you want to say, and then respond.
3) Reflect on what you have heard
We are all very different people, with differing perceptions and ideologies. We have all gone through wildly varying experiences. When someone talks to you, they’re expressing what they feel, their opinions. These may be similar to yours or not. Either way, you don’t have to stick to it.
Reflect on what you have been told and think about it on yours? terms. Did what you listened to make sense to you? Your views of the world dictate your opinions. See how the other person’s opinions relate to yours. Reflecting upon things and introspecting can enhance your listening experience. Reflection has also proven to improve your memory of an event and, therefore, can help in remembering the conversation longer and better.
4) Try to empathize with the person
Empathizing with the speaker makes things easier and interesting for both you and the speaker. When you try to put yourself in the speaker’s position and try to connect with them on that level, you may be able to understand what they are saying better. Why do they mean it and why do they feel that way? Putting yourself in another person’s shoes offers another perspective.
Moreover, when you empathize with the person, you take what is being said to heart. You start to think of yourself in similar situations. Do things start feeling a lot more personal and make? communication is effective.
5) Paraphrase and clarify occasionally
Communication will be fruitful and effective, only when both the speaker and the listener are on the same page. Paraphrasing is one technique that allows you, the listener, to check in with the speaker. Here, you rephrase what you just heard from the speaker. By doing so, you express your understanding of the message you received. You let the speaker know that you have either understood what they were saying or that you have understood it differently than they intended. Hence, when you paraphrase, it gives the person a chance to expand on the same, or clarify what they meant. Paraphrasing is a handy tactic when it comes to avoiding miscommunication. Employ it as much as you can.
6) Is your body saying what you are saying?
Your body speaks, too. The messages your body and your face give out are as integral to the communication as are the words that come out of your mouth. Imagine, someone is talking to you, and you reply, “Yes, I understand”, all the while not even looking at them and while scrolling through your phone. There is an obvious discrepancy between what you are saying and what your body is saying.
It is important to convince the speaker that you want them to keep speaking. Make them feel heard. The more interested you seem, the more they would be candid with you. Sit erect, facing them. Nod occasionally and make sure the eye contact is maintained. When you are listening, you won’t explicitly have to tell them. They will know.
7) Kindness goes a long way
Practice kindness as a habit. Being kind to others can be very rewarding.
Be kind when you are listening to someone. Try to have an open mind and convey that you are ready to receive whatever the other person has to say. Try not to judge the person for whatever they may say. Be accepting of who they are. We have all made mistakes and our mistakes do not define us.
Sometimes, when a person is talking, they may not even be looking for answers or responses from you. All they may need is for someone to be there listening to what they have to say, that feeling of being listened to. Identify your conversations accordingly and be the kind of listener that the situation calls for. More important, however – whatever kind of listener you are, remember to be kind.
8) Listen to them like you would like to be listened to
Finally, another valuable trick that you can use to become a better listener, is to imagine how you would like to be listened to. Conceptualize your ideal listener. The person, who when sitting across from you, listening to you, would make you feel so welcome. Who would make you feel encouraged to talk without a filter? Try to be that person so that your speaker also feels the same way to open up to you. Offer them that space. The one that you would like to have.
Listen, for you learn a lot more by listening than you do by reading or talking. Listen, for you will have to be listened to, too. When someone is sitting across from you, talking to you, listen with all your attention, for they deserve that kind of respect from you. Good communication is what sustains social relationships. We certainly do not require another global pandemic to impress upon us, the indispensability of human connection. Listen, for you do not want to lose out on precious relations. It all boils down to the effort that you put in. So if what it takes, for you to become a better listener is to consciously try and remind yourself to listen, do so, until it becomes second nature to you.