Listening is a skill that is necessary for proper communication, both in business and personal relationships. Read on for our tips on being a good listener.
Even though they both use the ears, listening is actually very different from hearing. Hearing seems to be something that is effortless, automatic, and non-selective. The brain recognises and categorises sounds even when we are asleep. This is why we sleep through noise that is expected but wake to soft, unexpected noises. Listening, however, is something that is intentional. That is, when we are listening, we are putting effort into it, we are focused, and we are selective in what we listen to. We need to be awake in order to listen. It can be said that hearing is something that is reactive while listening is something that is strategic. Listening uses a different part of the brain than hearing does. Hearing uses the posterior areas of the brain while listening engages the very front areas of the brain, in the prefrontal cortex.
What makes a good listener? A good listener is a person that is able to keep eye contact with the person that they are talking to. They lean towards the person that they are listening to and they make gestures to indicate that they are interested in what is being said. They also have “open” body language, that is, they are relaxed with their arms and legs uncrossed. When listening to the other person, they face them and sit or stand on the same level to promote a feeling of equality. When in a conversation, a good listener does not fidget or otherwise distract the speaker. Above all else, good listeners are genuine in the attention and interest that they give to a subject.
There are some things that you can do that will help you to become a better listener. It will take practice at first but you will soon find that the following things will become automatic.
• Listen to what is being said more than you talk.
• Stay focused on what is being said – don’t plan what you’re going to say next in your head.
• Never finish what the other person is saying.
• Give feedback where it is appropriate but never interrupt to do so.
• Occasionally give short summaries of what has been said to the other person. This keeps your focus and also shows the other person that you have been listening and have understood what they have said.
• Put yourself in the other person’s position.
• Observe non-verbal cues that the other person is giving off while they are speaking. These include tone of voice, eye contact, the rate of speech and so forth.