Do you have what it takes to be a good listener? It isn’t as easy as you think and it doesn’t always come naturally. However, with a little concentration and intention, you can improve your listening skills in as little as five steps.
- Maintain eye contact. Maintaining eye contact with the person speaking is essential. Your eyes are powerful in they way they communicate the message I care. In addition, eye contact helps keep you focused and increases your chance of getting the message being sent.
- Limit distractions. Turn off electronics, go somewhere quiet. Seek out a space that is comfortable, yet with limited distractions. If you have children, perhaps wait until they are in bed for the evening. It is important that your environment is conducive for uninterrupted conversation.
- Repeat back what you hear. It is important for the other person to hear the message that you heard them say. (Read that sentence again.) This step literally means repeat what you heard. You will feel like a parrot, but it is crucial in becoming a good listener. It allows you and your partner the opportunity to clarify what has been said to keep you both on the same page.
- Ask for clarity. You will not get the message the first time, especially if the speaker is saying a lot of information. Gently ask your partner to repeat what was said and to do so in brief sentences. This is not a race, so take as much time as you need. The point is not to get it over with, but to hear what is said.
- Note your own reactivity. Our own thoughts can hinder our ability to listen well. There may be times that your thoughts will interrupt your concentration because what is being said does not align with your beliefs or may create feelings of defensiveness or hurt. While your beliefs and feelings are important, it is also important to stay focused on the person speaking. For this listening exercise, the goal is to just hear what is being said, not to put meaning on it. Do your best to note your reactivity, but to also try to push them aside while you are listening.
Actively listening is a difficult, yet essential skill for building healthy relationships. You may need to practice these skills over and over before they become part of your way of life. Remember that old adage, practice makes perfect.