7 Ways to Be a Better Listener
Um, sorry, could you repeat that?
You just met a perfectly nice stranger. She says hello, you say hello, and the next thing you know, she's shared her name and life story and you can’t remember a single word. Here, seven ways to get your head in the game and listen up.
STOP THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO SAY NEXT
We all do it: Sometimes, when someone else is speaking, our brains have already skipped ahead and started planning our response. Instead, turn your focus to trying to understand the story he or she is sharing. (A useful trick? Before you weigh in with a reply, take two seconds to quickly paraphrase what the other person has just said.)
PRACTICE BABY TALK
Think about the way you listen to a three-year-old: You use your eyes, ears, face and body language to express that you’re actively listening and engaged. Obviously, you don’t need to go to the same extremes with adults, but try to take similar steps: Make eye contact, nod your head or make listening noises like mmmhmmm or yes.
PUT AWAY YOUR PHONE
You think you’re multitasking, but you’re not. In fact, studies show that just having your smartphone in your hand or on the table can create a state of “absent presence”--a condition where you're physically there, but your attention is elsewhere.
MAKE A POINT TO ASK QUESTIONS
Think of it as a homework assignment for your brain: Ask an open-ended question as soon as the person finishes speaking. Not sure what to ask? Try tuning into key phrases. For example, Lucy is sharing a story about her cat’s crazy antics. The key phrase is the fact that she has a cat, so use that to formulate a question: “Oh, how long have you had Miss Puffins?”
RESIST THE URGE TO FINISH SENTENCES
So, you know where the conversation is going. (Miss Puffins had a hairball.) Fight the urge. It’s not only the sign of a bad listener; it’s totally rude.
CONTROL YOUR BODY MOVEMENTS
Drumming your fingers, cracking your knuckles, playing with your hair--all signs that you aren’t paying attention. Assess your weakness and think of ways to combat it. (For example, try putting your hands in your pocket)
AND IF YOU DO ZONE OUT, ASK FOR CLARIFICATION
OK, so you started thinking about your roast-beef sandwich for a second or twelve. There’s a thoughtful way to recover--just ask a quick question about the thing you missed (“wait, sorry, what happened to Miss Puffin's kitty litter?”). Trust us: It’s a better plan than simply faking your way through the rest of the convo.