The benefits of sharpening your capacity for being a great listener are limitless. You'll build stronger connections with others, whether they are colleagues, clients, friends, or family members. It also allows for new perspectives. The trick is investing enough in the conversation to allow this to happen.
Employ these tips to be truly engaged in your next conversation:
1. Be a springboard, not a mirror.
Traditional advice calls for us to remain silent and then reflect back what the person is saying so they feel understood. While that may be a good starting point, stopping there keeps us from really engaging with the other person.
A good listener takes the information they hear and uses it to spark a question or continue the conversation. Instead of simply repeating back what the other person says, develop the discussion by diving deeper for greater understanding or to share your perspective.
2. Avoid jumping in with a solution.
Often, when we hear someone describe a dilemma, we want to fix it for them. Our first instinct is to tell them what they need to do to resolve the issue: "If I were you, I'd march right into their office and give them a piece of my mind!"
Suggesting impulsive, careless reactions isn't beneficial. Instead, help the other person come to their own conclusion. Ask questions about different possible actions and their outcomes rather than telling the other person what to do. This is likely to be better received, as the act of talking through a problem often brings clarity.
3. Show sincere interest.
Expressing that we are actually thinking about what someone is saying is one of the biggest compliments we can pay that person. Many of us use the time someone else is speaking to think of what we are going to say next. This leads to a missed opportunity to genuinely connect with another person.
Instead, stay in the moment: your number one goal is to understand what the other person is saying. If there's a pause after they finish as you digest what they shared, that's fine. Just make a conscious effort to think about the message they are conveying.
4. Refrain from judgment.
If your child tells you about a mistake they made, your initial reaction might be anger. However, if you explode, you are teaching them that confiding in you should be avoided. In any conversation, it's vital to control your reaction to keep the dialogue flowing.
Another blunder is to minimize (or dismiss) another's concerns inadvertently - that's a sure way to shut the conversation down. Rather, show support by empathizing with the other person. Think about how they are feeling: "You must be (ecstatic, confused, excited, scared) about the situation. What are your plans?"
5. Accept things you don't want to hear.
Maybe someone who reports directly to you is telling you that the new process you created is causing problems. Or perhaps your supervisor is critiquing your work. It's difficult to listen to criticism without feeling attacked; resist the urge to go into fight or flight mode.
You can buy yourself time to process unpleasant information by clarifying what you heard, so you are sure you understand what they are saying. Then excuse yourself to think about the information. In many cases, you don't need to fire back a retort immediately - and it's best not to if you are feeling defensive.