Do you find yourself in conversations you aren’t paying attention to? Ever been accused of being an “in one ear and out the other” listener? Listening is a skill most of us think we’ve mastered, but odds are we could use some practice.
Think about the amount of time spent in conversations every day—chatting with our partner, kids, friends, at the office, on calls, etc. Turns out we spend the vast majority of our day engaged in chitchat, and more than half of that time is devoted to keeping quiet and listening—and most of us struggle with it.
We can easily hear hundreds of thousands of words a day and the truth is, it’s pretty simple to become distracted and bored. Mindtools—a career skills development group—reported that people only remember between 25-50% of what is heard, meaning we pay attention to less than half of what someone says.
But, it's not entirely our fault that we're lousy listeners. “We spend more time listening today than reading, writing and speaking, yet listening is the portion of communication we spend the least time developing,” says Margaret Page, an etiquette expert in Vancouver. It helps to recognize that hearing and listening aren't the same thing. Listening involves both hearing and actually processing the information— and not just 25-50%.
We've put together a list of five tips we all should practice in order to be better listeners. Once mastered, you'll notice all areas of your life—from your romantic relationship to your friendships to your career—will improve.
1. Be an active listener.
Having the desire to understand what someone’s trying to convey is the secret to being a good listener, says Stacey Hanke, a communications and influence expert and the author of Influence Redefined. She suggests using "words of encouragement" such as, "I see" and "go on," as such engagement can help our ability to retain details from the conversation. Furthermore, responding with these words promotes the conversation, often prompting the speaker to share more details than they originally considered divulging.
2. Practice good habits.
Like any skill, practice makes perfect. “Good listening involves facing the speaker, making eye contact to connect, being fully present, responding with appropriate body language (smiles, nods, eyebrow-raising, etc.), asking follow-up or clarifying questions and responding with comments that elevate the conversation,” says Page. It’s about managing your brain to zero in on what’s being said.
3. Ignore your devices and distractions.
“Few things are as inconsiderate or hard to ignore than the distraction of a device, yet many of us are guilty to giving in to its demand for our attention,” says Hanke. It’s pretty much impossible to concentrate when you’re dying to read a text or scroll through Instagram. Silence your device or move your phone out of view. Give the speaker respect by removing things that can prevent you from listening to them and reacting to what they're saying.
4. Wait your turn.
When you’re listening to someone speak, you’re often waiting for time to interject your own thoughts and ideas. But it’s not about competing for time—it’s about staying silent and really paying attention. “Focus on the individual speaking to observe subtle nuances—watch the eyes, face, hands,” Page says. “If you find yourself getting mentally distracted and veering off in other thoughts, silently repeat what the speaker is saying." This simple act will keep you engaged in the conversation and ensure you retain the what was said.
5. Follow up to show you understand and are processing the information.
Hanke says demonstrating empathy not only builds trusting relationships but also expresses compassion and understanding for the conversation that was shared. She suggests asking questions or sharing your thoughts when the speaker has finished. “Whether you’re empathetic throughout the discussion or after, bringing this level of engagement to the conversation will further your relationship and create a degree of mutual respect.”