Sure, you’re hearing me. But are you actually listening?

Most of the time, when someone is “listening” it actually means “I’m pretending to care, waiting for my turn to talk.” Just hearing someone is not the same as compassionate listening. Don’t get me wrong–I’m far closer to the world’s worst listener than the world’s greatest listener. But hey, I’m trying to be better. How good of a listener are you: Is it in one ear and out the other, or are you truly a sympathetic ear? Here are some ways to improve listening skills.

Here’s Looking At You

Listening requires a great amount of both attention and focus. Ears are important for listening, but eyes are equally important. It’s a hell of a lot easier to listen to someone if your gaze is focused on them. Yes, that means shut the laptop, flip over your phone and ignore your smart watch. It’s amazing how much more engaging it is to converse with someone when you’re truly present for them, without distraction. We suck at multitasking. You also see important cues you might miss, like body language and facial expressions. You can get the wrong sense of something if you only hear the words but miss some huge visual clues to true meaning! Listening is about more than just simply hearing spoken words.

Practice Silent Listening

Remember “silent reading” from grade school? You know, that thing where you read a sentence aloud but silently in your mind? Try doing that the next time you’re listening. Silently repeat what the speaker is saying as they say it. Repeat every single word, not just the last few or a summary. This takes some practice, but it can do wonders for comprehension, understanding and memory. If you do this, it’s a great preventative for “in one ear, out the other” syndrome.

It’s a Conversation

Despite popular belief, hard-core listening is not a one-way experience. Specific phrases, expressions and sayings may mean different things to the speaker than the listener. Asking questions to clarify or dig deeper is a great way to clarify understanding and get to the core of discussion. The key to this is to ask questions that lead the speaker into talking more, and perhaps posing things in a different way. Think about how a psychologist or therapist uses questions to help a patient have more of a conversation with him or herself. Plus, if you’re a 100% silent listener, people start to think you’re zoning our or–ever worse–silently judging them.

How good are you at listening on scale of 1 to 10? Do you think it’s an important skill to grow and improve? What are some of your listening tips? Let me know in the comments!

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