Becoming a more effective listener is one of the most important skills that you can develop if you want to have better interactions with people.

Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  One of the most effective ways to do this is to become a better listener.

God gave us 2 ears and only one mouth, but we so rarely get the ratio right in our interactions with others.  One of the reasons for this is that we can generally speak about 120-150 words per minute (although I know people who can fit more than that in), whilst our minds can process about 500 words per minute, giving us a lag-time that can be distracting.

So what are some tips to becoming a more effective listener?

Be aware of your body language.   The effective use of body language is often discussed when teaching how to deliver a message, but not so much when receiving one.  A few simple things to consider if you want to become a better listener are:

  • Smile.  This indicates that you want to be there and are happy to listen.
  • Nod your head.  Not as though you are at a heavy metal concert, but in a way that reassures that you are taking in information.
  • Be open.  Make sure that your shoulders are square with the person you are listening to and try not to cross your arms.

Don’t be afraid of silence.  Sometimes, we are so used to noise that we start to feel uncomfortable when there are pauses during a conversation.  One of the important lessons that I had to learn during my Life Coaching studies was to allow for moments of silence when listening to others.  Sometimes it can be difficult to think clearly and talk at the same time, so by giving some thinking time, you may enable others the chance to articulate their thoughts more effectively.

Restrain yourself.  Many times we can fall into the trap of thinking that we have a funnier anecdote, more fascinating statistic or sadder war story that people just have to hear.  We do this to feed our ego and in an attempt to make ourselves look better.  The reality is that people will think more of us if we help them to feel better about themselves, than if we try to trump them with our words of perceived wisdom.

Another reason to restrain ourselves is because there are times when there are no words that can make things better.  Sometimes people are experiencing such challenges in their lives that any advice or words of condolence don’t really make that much of a difference and sometimes can make things worse.

Ask questions.  Asking great questions can be a great way to get conversations started.  Asking follow-up questions can be a great way of showing that you were listening and want to know more about the topic that is being discussed.  Try to keep the questions open if possible and remember that a good listener never answers their own questions.

Get rid of distractions.  One of the obstacles to effective listening is the constant bombardment that we can sometimes get from the world around us.  There are some things that we can do about this, so make sure that you put your mobile on silent, don’t check your email, don’t look at your watch and stop looking around for someone more interesting to listen to.

By becoming more effective listeners, we increase our opportunity to influence and impact others.  I hope that these tips are helpful.

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