Listen More, Talk Less
When someone expresses concern or doubt, I often find myself searching for the perfect thing to say. How do I offer the best advice? What can I say to make someone feel better? While this comes with good intentions, it can actually do more harm than good! I recently took a leadership class on communication which helped me realize that sometimes, the best thing to do is just listen.
When we think about it, this makes sense. Think of someone in your life who you would consider a good listener. Do you love this person? Do you respect this person? All of us want to feel heard. It’s what makes us feel validated. It shows us that people care. Becoming a better listener not only helps you become a better friend, but also a better leader.
Listening is a skill that takes diligence and practice. The truth of the matter is that many of us aren’t very good listeners. While we spend more time listening to others than utilizing any other type of communication, listening tends to be a vital part of communication that we often overlook. Really good listening requires that we are attentive, patient, responsive, and understanding. When we can do all of these things effectively, then we are better able to decipher meaning, respond effectively, build trust, develop positive relationships, and serve others.
There are a few things that hinder our listening skills. First, we have trained ourselves to become mindless listeners. We are constantly bombarded by information and messages throughout our day that we have unconsciously developed filtering processes. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We cannot give every message we receive every ounce of our attention – it would be exhausting. We just need to be aware of when we need to take a more active listening approach, like when your friend is telling you about a conflict or when that person you sit next to in class seems to be having a difficult day.
Second, there are a million little distractions that can steal our attention. Besides obvious, literal distractions like noise or interruptions, we may also create distractions ourselves. Our own experiences may interfere with or overtake our thoughts. This can inhibit us from listening to the other person’s actual needs. Or perhaps, we’re too focused on what to say next. We get so focused on crafting our own perfect response that we fail to truly understand or process what others are saying.
While listening can be difficult because of these factors, the good news is that we can all become better listeners! We just have to be intentional about how we do so. Try these tips as a way to get started:
- Practice good eye contact. It shows that you are engaged.
- Be conscious of your body posture. Try to avoid crossing your arms – even something as simple as this can look like a barrier. You can even nod to demonstrate that you are receiving their message.
- Observe non-verbal cues. Does their posture match the tone of their words?
- Use silence effectively! Sometimes there isn’t anything you can say to make it better; simply just being there shows you care.
- Paraphrase what you heard to ensure you understood it correctly. For example, “what I’m hearing you say is…, right?”
- Not sure if you should offer advice? Just ask! Maybe they do want to hear your opinion, but maybe they just want to listen. Asking never hurts.
People just want to be heard. Listening in itself can be therapeutic. Not only does listening demonstrate care, but it allows you to understand what people really need. By paying attention to the little details, we can begin to understand where others are coming from. This can help us become more perceptive, empathetic, intentional and attune individuals and leaders.
*Meet the Author*
Caroline is an Event Producer for the Center for Creative Leadership. She is a graduate of Chapman University, with a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and Bachelor’s degrees in Integrated Educational Studies and Psychology, who loves dogs, the beach, sunshine, and traveling!