Become an Expert Listener; Active Listening Improves Relationships
Do you get distracted easily during a conversation? Or sometimes feel like you have an “agenda”, and talking will keep you from doing “what’s really important”? Do family, friends, or business relationships sometimes take the back seat? If you answered YES to any of these questions, you might be (unwittingly) sabotaging your relationships.
If this comes as a surprise to you, you may not appreciate the importance of good communication (including active listening). How might your communication skills be impacting your ability to connect as a leader, a partner, a parent, or a friend? When you put other priorities before your connections with other humans, you often pay a “price”. By prioritizing connections and practicing active listening techniques, you will be able to build trust and improve your relationships with those who matter most in your life.
Communication = Priority
In a world where we are constantly bombarded with distractions competing for our attention, good communication may take a back seat. But it’s critical that we keep our priorities straight. Whether it’s work, home or social commitments, or our personal goals, we may find ourselves struggling to make time for meaningful conversations and connections. It’s important to recognize these competing priorities and make the effort to prioritize our relationships and maintain open and honest communication, even when it’s challenging.
But good communication is more than simply hearing what someone is saying. Truly listening to someone is to demonstrate that you value them and what matters to them. By honing our active listening skills, we can build deeper connections with others, understand their perspectives, and foster mutual trust and respect.
Here are some active listening tips that let people know that you value them.
Tip #1 – Be Present and Focused
The first step in becoming a better listener is to be present and focused.
If you get distracted easily, put away your phone, and close your computer. It sends the wrong message to engage in a conversation with someone who is frequently glancing at their phone or is scrolling through their email. If you are too busy for a conversation right now, reschedule for a time when you can give your undivided attention.
When you are listening, be sure you are giving your undivided attention. Think ahead about the type of conversation you will have and what will be the best setting. Is this a conversation that should take place in a private setting, or in a coffee shop? In which direction should you be facing, and would it be better to position yourself so that physical distractions are behind you? Is the setting noisy or quiet, and will that matter?
Be mindful of your body language. Face the speaker and make eye contact. Don’t close yourself off by crossing your arms, or you will appear unapproachable. Be sure your body language is open and receptive. Relax. Lean forward, which demonstrates your interest.
Being present and focused will help you absorb the speaker’s message and demonstrate to them that you value their thoughts and opinion.
Tip #2 – Empathy and Understanding
When someone is speaking to you, imagine yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself, what might they be thinking, feeling, or experiencing right now?
Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and experiences. Try to understand where they are coming from. How things might appear from their perspective.
Summarize back to demonstrate your understanding of what they are saying. This shows that you are actively listening and valuing them.
Also, no matter how tempting, do not shift the conversation by sharing a story about yourself. When you do this you stop listening. Remember the old adage, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason!
Tip #3 – Ask Open-Ended Questions|
Asking open-ended questions encourages the person you are speaking with to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings.
This can help you gain a deeper understanding of their perspective and show that you are interested in what they are saying. It also helps the speaker think through their thoughts or ideas by saying them out loud. This may be a way for them to process their thoughts.
Avoid asking leading questions, which prompt or encourage the answer you would like to hear. Such as, “I really love the red car the most, don’t you?” Instead, ask “Which color do you prefer?”
Also, avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. These kinds of questions do not encourage conversation but actually shut it down.
Often a good question to ask is: “Tell me more about that”. You might even find it helpful to search for good questions to prepare for your conversation. If you need to refer to your question list, you are demonstrating to the speaker that you cared enough to prepare.
And lastly, avoid interrupting. Don’t assume you know what the speaker is about to say. Don’t attempt to finish their sentences. This is not a process that can be rushed and requires patience.
Active listening is a skill that requires the intention to not only hear but understand someone’s perspective.
Tip #4 – Listen with Love
To create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, it is important to BE non-judgmental. But just saying BE non-judgemental isn’t helpful. So, how do you NOT be something?
I like how Og Mandino, author of The Greatest Salesman in the World, describes this concept, which I have paraphrased. He explains that in meeting others you silently say (to the other person), “I love you”. In making this shift, your good intentions will shine in your eyes, unwrinkle your brow, bring a smile to your lips, and echo in your voice.
If your purpose is in really listening and connecting with others, doing this with “love in your heart” shifts you out of your space, and into theirs. In doing this, you’re able to BE more accepting, open and empathetic (or BEing non-judgmental).
This approach can be especially helpful when preparing for a conversation that may be tricky or difficult. Pause and breathe. Say “I love you” silently. Now Listen, with love in your heart.
No matter what you THINK may be going on, what you THINK you know, set aside your assumptions.
Active Listening is Powerful
As a parent, wife, sister, daughter, friend, and HR professional with over 25 years of experience and hundreds, if not thousands of conversations in my lifetime, I’ve learned that no matter how much we THINK we know, we never really do.
Active listening is one of the most powerful tools we have to improve our relationships. Striving to become an expert listener will help you build trust, and stronger relationships and show people you value them. By giving your undivided attention, being present in the moment, showing empathy and understanding, asking open-ended questions, and listening with love in your heart, you can listen in a way that truly demonstrates you appreciate and value the people in your life.
If you are struggling with your priorities, including being an active listener, I can help you identify your strengths so you can improve your relationships. Complete our assessment and schedule a FREE introductory session today.
Kristin Clark is a certified Axiogenics Coach and co-author of Living a Richer Life; It’s All in Your Head. Kristin has coached hundreds of people from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs, industries, and professions. She teaches Valuegenic Self-Leadership, a powerful development program engaging, empowering, and igniting individuals’ and leaders’ potential to improve their performance, relationships, and quality of life.