By Diane Wilson
Now tell the truth, have you ever: Read your e-mail while the person on the other end of the phone thought you were listening exclusively to him? Mulled over your lunch break activities while your boss was explaining your next assignment? Drawn a complete blank on what your co-worker just passionately told you about her day?
When most people think about becoming better communicators, they think of becoming better at talking. But, in reality, listening to others is at least equally important. Listening helps us collect information essential to navigating work and life.
It’s not surprising that listening is an important part of emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient, EQ). And EQ can be a stronger predictor of success in many fields than IQ (intelligence quotient). It is not unusual to find that people who are highly accomplished in work or life have sharp, acutely honed listening skills. The good news here is that listening is also a skill we can improve on our own.
Many of us probably stopped being good listeners because we have competing demands and there is so much coming at us all at once. Pretty soon, “half listening” becomes our habitual way of responding. Or perhaps we started out as good listeners and people did not listen to us. We thought, “Why make the effort?” That could start a vicious cycle. Or maybe we were never taught good listening skills.
Here are some ideas to help you become a better listener:
Make a choice
To break the “half listening” habit, recognize that in the end, listening to others is a choice. Although there may be consequences to not listening, you are the one who is ultimately in control of your behavior. When you think about it this way, you then can become aware of when you are tuning your listening off and on. You choose to listen because you have a good reason, such as if your boss is talking about your next assignment.
Express your choice
Be intentional about your actions—it will help you focus more on what you are doing and not doing. Tell yourself, “I am going to listen to my co-worker’s response to this question now because I want to hear it. I will not listen to her go on and on, though.”
Whenever possible, tell people when you can’t make the listening choice and when you can: “I’m sorry I can’t listen fully to you now, I’ve got something else on my mind I have to finish.” Or: “Thanks for the explanation, this is all I need for now.”
Most of us struggle with expectations, thoughts and emotions that keep us out of the present reality. We think: “He’s talking to me again about those assignments. Will he never shut up?” This serves to block out our listening. Focus and “clean the screen.”
Breathe in, relax and be completely in the richness of that one moment—not in what you’re going to say next. Let yourself be curious; study what is happening.
Listen to the vocal tones. If possible, watch gestures and look into people’s eyes. Really look. Most of us stop seeing the familiar people around us.
Nod and give verbal cues that let people know you are understanding the communications. Be active enough to let others know they’re being heard.
Good listening takes practice. It is a gift to be truly heard in a conversation. It is an unusual gift in that when we give it, we’re likely to get it back.
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