Listening should be easy. We do it every day. But there’s a very important distinction between actively listening, and simply hearing when someone is talking.
Most advice about listening urges people to limit their own talking – and to listen instead. This is good advice, but limiting your own talking is not enough: not talking is not equivalent to listening. If you’re not talking but instead, are thinking about what you will say next, you are not listening. In fact – that’s the reason many people interrupt so often during conversations.
Here are four simple techniques that can help you become a better listener:
Paraphrasing what another person said is a good tactic to make sure that you’re hearing the other person correctly. It’s impossible to paraphrase accurately if you’re not listening. Therefore, developing a habit to periodically paraphrase what the other person is saying is a good way to push yourself to become a better listener. A quick paraphrase might not only make the speaker more comfortable, but will also help you avoid confusion.
When you summarize what you heard, you have the opportunity to show that you listened carefully not just to the words, but also to the concepts and ideas. This is an important technique because it forces you to identify the most important points the other person was trying to communicate to you. It also quickly tests your understanding of new terms and concepts introduced during the conversation.
It’s rare that we understand everything we hear. In most cases, we might be unclear about certain concepts. Many people assume that they’ll figure it out later, or that those concepts are less important.
Don’t assume. Ask questions. You can clarify by simply letting the other person know that you didn’t understand something they said, or you can use another technique – such as paraphrasing – to make sure that you correctly understand what the other person said.
Reflection is different from paraphrasing because reflection involves feelings and empathy. This is your opportunity to show that you understand what the other person said and that you understand WHY what they said is important to them. Learning how to reflect during a conversation pushes you to listen carefully not just to the words, but to the mood of the conversation – and the feelings the other person is attempting to communicate.
If you apply these four simple techniques to your conversations, you will become a better listener.
Remember – you can’t learn if you are not willing to listen.