Communication is the oil that lubricates relationships, but there’s no communication without listening. How well you listen determines the health of your relationships — connections that, in turn, affect your personal and professional happiness.
Fundamental to listening well is truly wanting to understand the other person versus just going through the motions (“Uh-huh,” head nod, “Uh-huh”) or biding time until it’s your turn to speak. That sincerity in place, the below tips will help you tune in.
Know your audience
Whether listening or speaking, adapt your approach to the other’s demeanor. Are they fearful? Shy? A straight talker? A roundabout type of communicator? Do they have a short attention span? Forcing the wrong approach only complicates communication.
Avoid the tune-out
It’s especially easy for couples and for parents with children to come to the point where you tune out the other. You think you know the person so well, which makes it harder to patiently hear them out. Approach each situation as new.
Invest when children are young
As kids age, they tend to become selectively silent around the adults in their lives. Parents and grandparents who genuinely listen build valuable trust for later. Taking the time to listen well is perhaps the most important thing you can do to ensure a healthy relationship. Remember, you’re teaching them how to listen, too.
Give the speaker your best focus
No one’s going to open up if they sense they’re bothering you. Identify and remove distractions, both external (TV, smartphone, computer) and internal (worries, hunger, fatigue). Multitasking is a listening roadblock unless you’re driving, exercising or doing something similarly conducive to conversation. Make eye contact and take in the whole of the exchange. Sometimes it’s not what’s being said, but how.
Refrain from interrupting
Invariably we think that what we have to say is more important. Don’t assume that yours is the only side of the story or the more fascinating side. Consciously resist the urge to jump in when the other party pauses.
Ask questions to clarify
This opens up entirely new worlds of ideas and comprehension, whereas making assumptions does the opposite. Ask “Is this what you mean?” as you repeat back what you heard. Encourage elaboration with, “Is there anything else I’d do well to know?” Patiently avoid answering for the other person or jumping to conclusions. Strive instead for deeper understanding.
Take a breather if necessary
In angry conversations particularly, it’s easier to listen to the other person if you’re not busy stifling defensive rebuttals or crafting winning points. Open yourself up to what’s being said. Then, as necessary, buy yourself some time by saying “Can I get back to you on that? I need to think it over.” Do so when you’re more collected.
Focused listening shows respect, conveys that you care and validates the importance of what’s being said. It is a winning approach to life.