If you’ve ever had to introduce yourself to someone and you’ve defaulted to “I’m a good listener,” pat yourself on the back. Listening is an art, and not everyone can be good at it, let alone master it. But, are you really good?
What makes a good listener, and what makes a bad one? Is it as black and white as we perceive it to be? “Good” listening isn’t just about not interrupting someone, giving physical cues like leaning in to show that you’re interested or being able to repeat what the other person spoke about.
What makes a good listener, then?
Asking the right questions and knowing when to interject without interrupting/breaking the flow of a conversation isn’t just unique to excellent conversationalists. It’s also a hallmark trait of a good listener. You can sit with a person and listen (even in earnest) to every word he’s speaking, but it may still not convince the speaker that you’re soaking it in.
So, ask questions. This indicates that you’re not only listening, but you’re also interested.
Another trait of a good listener is making the conversation a collaborative affair. Good listeners walk into a conversation with an open mind and respect the other person’s views, even if they differ vastly from their own. Poor listeners are often competitive and try to attack everything with logic and reason, even when the situation doesn’t demand it.
Good listeners also offer suggestions, but they are never pushy about it. When you can offer a suggestion, it directly implies that you’ve heard the problem thoroughly. The speaker is bound to trust the listener more as the latter didn’t jump at the situation and solve it independently.
Another trait that’s commonly overlooked is physical cues. Lean in, show that you are genuinely interested, and periodically nod to show you understand. It encourages the speaker to confide in you and continue talking.
Now, let’s look at a few more ways to be a good listener.
How to Be a Good Listener
Ignore screen time
Yes, that means all your laptops, tablets, smartphones, and any other device that might divert your attention from the conversation. Put your phone in “silent mode” if you must. We’ve become so habituated to checking our phones every few seconds; even a non-alarming text could send us in a frenzy if we’re unable to check the message. Likewise, by looking at your smartphone in the middle of a conversation, you’re immediately signaling that you’re less interested in the conversation.
Practice Deep Listening
At the heart of deep listening lies empathy. It asks us to travel inwards in pursuit of self-awareness. It’s an ongoing practice of being open to the unexpected and keeping preconceived notions and biases at bay. Deep listening helps promote and improve our relationship with ourselves, to be the most authentic version of ourselves. In turn, it enables us to perceive and receive knowledge without a clouded view.
Enlist the help of meditation methods
Our lives are full of distractions everywhere, and no matter how hard we try to stay present in the moment, it seems impossible. To be a better listener, one must be more mindful. One of the best uses of meditation is guiding us down this path. This starts by being fully present, giving yourself time, and meditating. Start with a free self-guided meditation that will teach you how to live in the present. It’s okay to be distracted. The aim is to let whatever thoughts and feelings come and let them go as you focus on your breath, bringing yourself back to the present moment. If you become restless, you can start with an introductory 10-minute guided meditation for focus or 20-minute breathing meditation.
Keep your eyes open
For some, talking doesn’t come naturally. They may be conscious of how they speak, the things they may say, and how you may react to it. So, to be a good listener, you should keep an eye out for verbal cues. If they are uncomfortable around you, they may start gesturing and talking faster, they may step away from you, or they may cross their arms across their chest. Understand why they may be feeling this discomfort around you, and work on ways to ease it.
They say that the simple act of just listening can solve many problems owing to empathy and patience. For example, when people are stressed out or in difficult situations, sometimes all they need is someone to hear them out – and that’s what a good listener does. So, the next time you’re talking to someone, and you want to respond, ask yourself – am I listening to listen, or am I listening to respond?