While it may seem silly to talk about a skill, we practice each and every day, many of us don’t realize how difficult it is to truly master the art of listening. There’s a large difference between listening to respond and listening to understand. Rehearsing and thinking about what you’re going to say when the individual stops talking prevents you from truly hearing what they have to say. When difficult situations arise in the home, workplace or world in general, the most productive way to overcome this issue is less talking and more listening. Because our brains think faster than we’re able to speak, we have time to think about many things while the other person is talking. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in your own thoughts and miss important aspects of the other person’s message. Below are concrete practices that can be utilized to improve your listening skills.
Wait Your Turn
While words may come to you quickly, many individuals need time to formulate their thoughts in order to express themselves effectively. Just because a person pauses doesn’t mean they’re finished speaking, they may simply be collecting their thoughts. Many people are uncomfortable in silences, so they jump in in order to alleviate their uneasiness. It’s also not uncommon to have the urge to complete the other person’s sentences with your own thoughts and opinions. It’s important to resist this temptation in order to have an effective dialogue.
Listen with Your Eyes
While it’s important to pay attention to what the other person is saying, people express themselves through body language as well as with their words. Watching a person’s facial expressions and body language can help you to understand how they’re feeling within the dialogue. While focusing on the other person’s body language, take a moment to check in with yours as well. We can communicate interest, dismissiveness, openness and being closed off all through our body language. What is your body language telling them?
Use Open-Ended Questions
Asking questions can signal to the other person that you’re actively listening to what they’re saying. Use open-ended questions to help you understand exactly what the other person is trying to convey. Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with just a yes or no. Asking questions can help you get more information, ideas and opinions from the person you’re communicating with. They can also encourage deeper thinking from the other individual leading to more powerful stimulating conversations.
Take a moment to determine what the person is expressing in terms of their emotions. Repeating what you’re seeing them convey shows them you understand not just what they’re saying but the emotions that accompany them. In addition, reflecting feelings back to the person gives them the opportunity to clarify if how you’re understanding them is different from what they’re trying to convey.
Restating what the person has said in your own words shows them you’ve been listening and understand what they’re saying. This also opens up the opportunity for the other person to clarify if they aren’t being understood correctly. Paraphrasing does not include responding with your own thoughts, feelings or ideas. Simply restating the other person’s message in your own words.
Take a moment to restate, in your own words, what was talked about in the entirety of the conversation. This includes the main points, feelings, and thoughts that were discussed. While summarizing, reflect the person’s main point/conclusion back to them to reinforce you understand the message they’re trying to convey.
Incorporating these practices into your daily conversations is not easy but necessary in order to have meaningful and important conversations. Engaging in these exchanges leads to more satisfying interpersonal relationships and eliminates confusion and misunderstandings. The art of listening is difficult but necessary to improve our interactions in all facets of our lives.
If you’ve found yourself struggling to focus or maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment for therapy in Chicago with one of our professional counselors today!