Have you ever been caught red-handed because you were supposed to be listening and you were pretending to be listening… but you weren’t? Many people have upset a coworker, a friend, or family member because they expected us to be paying attention. They assumed we would be a better listener.
So what can we do to avoid distractions and listen more actively? Here are 5 simple tips on how to be a better listener. Impress your family, friends, coworkers and clients with your top notch listening abilities.
Watch this video about the 5 simple ways to be a better listener.
You probably recognize that it takes more work when you’re actively listening. You’re not being distracted by the messages on your phone, the view outside the window, or your daydreams.
When you’re paying attention, you’re actually listening, asking questions, making eye contact, and saying, “I understand.”
First of all, to be a better listener, you want to maintain eye contact. It shows others that you are paying attention. Now, people ask me all the time, “What is a good amount of eye contact?”
During a conversation, some people say half a minute is good. Some say, it depends on the other party. Others say there is no set rule. It depends on the other person’s comfort level.
Some people are comfortable with eye contact. When you look at them, they are looking at you. You’re connecting.
But other people when you look at them for just a little bit, they look away and when you look again, they are looking back at you again.
The best thing to do is to mirror them. Do what they are doing and you will be at their comfort level. Especially if you’re doing business in a multicultural setting, be aware of cultural differences.
Eye contact is polite in North America and many parts of Europe. In contrast, eye contact is considered a challenge to authority in many Asian cultures. These are all factors to consider, in addition to individual comfort level.
Sometimes, you’ll notice when I’m listening, I’m looking at the ground and I’m thinking at the same time when someone asks for my advice. I’m listening, but this body positioning is how I think.
With my body language, I’m leaning forward to show I’m interested and listening, and I’ll nod my head. And after the other person is finished asking for my advice, I’ll look at him and ask some questions. This is my way of engaging with people.
Others may not be as comfortable. When you try to engage with them more with eye contact, they may even back away because they’re unsure how to connect with you. If that happens, and you want to connect, they will sense it.
Even if the initial conversation isn’t going well, you can work on the connection and change their opinion. It really depends on the other person, but start with eye contact. Next, listen by involving your hand, your pen, and some paper.
2. Take Notes
I’m not talking about attending a college lecture. To be a better listener, seriously, take out a pen and paper and start taking notes.
A number of years ago, I asked a very successful local entrepreneur named Basil Peters, who wrote the book Early Exits, out to dinner. He’s a mergers and acquisitions advisor and he helps companies exit by selling the company.
I’ll never forget that he showed up to that nice, seafood restaurant – he brought a notebook. I was going to pick his brain about his secret to success because he was more successful than me, but he was the one with a notebook.
And before the dinner started, he asked me questions and took notes. At the end, only 20 percent of the questions were mine and 80 percent were his. He was mostly asking me stuff. When dinner was finished, I thought, “No wonder he’s successful.”
Imagine, when someone is having a meeting with you, they pull a notebook. And as you’re talking, they ask, “Do you mind if I take notes?”
How would that make you feel? You would probably feel important and special. Of course you’d wouldn’t mind them taking notes. You’ll be pouring your heart out and sharing all kinds of things with them.
Just the words, “Can I take notes?” shows respect. It shows you value what they are saying.
One of my mentees pulls out his phone and starts recording when I want to share something. I feel valued so I feel compelled to share something I haven’t shared before.
So take notes when you meet someone more successful than you. And do it the old fashioned way, with a pen and notebook. Otherwise, if you use your phone, they’re not sure if you’re taking notes or playing with your phone. And this strategy works on everybody.
3. Allow People To Finish Their Own Sentences
It doesn’t matter how enthusiastic you are about jumping into the conversation. Don’t make the mistake of cutting someone off before they can finish their own sentences. It indicates disrespect for what the other person is saying.
Let the other person finish before you contribute. Ask them questions. Don’t ask them, “Are you finished?” No, ask questions like “Where did it go from there?” or “Tell me more” or “Would you like my feedback?” Ask for permission.
Listen to what the other person is saying, and take notes. Or you will forget what they said. For example, they might mention a contact or a useful website. If you’re taking notes, you can ask them to spell a name or confirm the details of the website. It’s a simple habit to listen and respond.
4. Use Words Of Confirmation
You might have experienced the feeling when you say something and you hear silence. You feel disrespected, like the other person didn’t consider your comments to be worth their time. Don’t let that happen!
As a better listener, show you’ve heard what the other person said. Acknowledge with some quick responses. You can use words like, “I see” or “I understand” or “I understand where you’re coming from.” But be careful with your responses!
It can easily become routine to just say, “uh huh” or “um hmm” even though you’re not actually listening. You can vary your response with something like “Hmm” and the person will think they just said something very profound.
It’s very subtle but it will give the other person the impression that you’re listening. These short expressions of acknowledgement are like a game of ping pong – they serve by saying something and you hit it back.
These responses show the other person you’re engaged in the conversation. When they feel recognized, they’re even more excited about helping you. If you say, “I wish I could do what you do,” they may answer with, “Oh, you could! Let me show you all my strategies and secrets! Here you go.”
It’s very simple. Be sincere and pay attention and ask questions.
5. Ask Core Questions
Core questions are special questions, not the typical ones found in almost every conversation. So it doesn’t include questions like, “How was your day?”
No, core questions are a series of why and how questions that go deeper into a particular subject to gain the greatest understanding of a situation.
So you’re saying, “Hmm, I see where you’re coming from. Okay, tell me, how did you get into that?” Or, “Why is that important to you?
These questions probe for details. You might ask, “Hmm. What are your goals and dreams?” And after they answer, you ask, “What’s stopping you? What’s preventing you from getting what you want?”
You wait for them to elaborate before asking, “How can I help? Who do I know that could help you?”
The conversation just flows, you don’t need a script. If you’re using a script something is wrong because then you’re not paying attention. If you’re actually paying attention, undivided attention, and you’re listening, and asking core questions, the conversation should flow naturally.
Let me ask you a question: Why is it important to ask a core question?
You want to keep the other person engaged, and you don’t want to get a yes/no answer. It’s an open-ended question that should lead to more minutes of conversation. Then you ask another question, and the conversation keeps going. Then another question.
Final Thoughts On 5 Simple Ways To Become A Better Listener
Think about it. In your life, of the people you meet, how many people actually do all these five of these listening tips well? How many of them are good listeners?
Do they pay attention, make eye contact, take notes, confirm they are listening, or ask core questions? Of the people you encounter day-to-day, probably very few do these simple strategies. So what happens to you when you implement these strategies?
You stand out. Other people remember you.
Do you take notes during a conversation? Comment below.