6 Ways to Double Your Listening Skills
A seemingly easy skill, listening is something that lots of people struggle with. How many of us ask someone their name or what they do for a living, and then immediately forget it?
I’m not a perfect listener by any stretch of the imagination. But I have improved a lot from where I used to be.
In my case, I had so many internal thoughts running through my head that it was impossible for me to really listen to other people.
So that brings us to the first technique:
1. Quiet your internal thoughts
You can’t listen to someone unless you can hear them. And you can’t hear someone over the noise that is happening inside your mind.
We all have an internal tape recording playing in our heads with random thoughts and running commentary. In Buddhism this is called the “monkey mind.”
For some it’s worse than others. Our heads are filled with ruminations about the past and worries about the future. We need to let go of the past and the future and just focus on the present.
Meditation will help you quiet your thoughts in general. Regular meditation helps you become less overwhelmed by random worries, judgments (about yourself and about others), reading into things too much, ruminating about something someone said, mulling over a past mistake you made, and all the other random nonsense that pops into our minds.
2. Focus your attention on them
Sounds simple but it’s easy to overlook.
This also helps with quieting your internal thoughts. You will take energy away from the tape recorder inside your head and put it on them.
But it also begins the process of true listening. Listening means observing and processing what someone is giving you in conversation. You need to be focused on them in order to do that.
Don’t just look at them or orient your body towards them.
Actually focus like a laser on this person and everything they are giving you as they speak.
3. Notice nonverbals
Pay very close attention to their nonverbals as they are talking:
- Facial expressions (smiling, frowning, wincing, etc)
- Body movement (posture, swaying one way or another, etc)
- Hand gestures
- Eye movements
- Vocal tonality
To really listen to someone you need to not just hear their words but also the nonverbal messaging they are speaking alongside the words.
All of these are very subtle, so you won’t catch them if you aren’t really paying attention.
Good listeners are excellent at noticing these subtle signals and indicators of emotion.
They are not “extra” components to the conversation. You should look at nonverbals as an integral part of their whole communication.
Recognizing subtle nonverbal signals in their face, hands or voice will add layers of understanding that will elude you if you focus just on the words alone.
4. Agree and confirm
This forces your brain to pick up on what is being said and internalize it. Whenever they say something or make a point, agree with it, and confirm it.
You can confirm it by either asking a follow up question to make sure you got it, or by restating it in your own words:
Rob: I think the most important thing we learned this month was the importance of getting our marketing strategy in order. It’s still not 100%.
Victoria: That makes sense. So you think there is still room to improve the marketing strategy.
Rob: Exactly. We have some good ideas on that, but we need to flesh them out more and build a more comprehensive strategy.
Victoria: Right. We have to take the bits and pieces of marketing ideas and kind of integrate them into a single over-arching process.
In this case, Victoria agrees with each statement that Rob makes (“That makes sense” and “Right”), and then confirms his idea by stating it in different words. She can do the same thing by turning her statement into a question:
Victoria: Right. So you think we have to take these bits and pieces and kind of integrate them into a single over-arching process?
5. Accept and don’t disagree
When we are in “disagree” or “debating” mode, we are already thinking of our response before the other person has finished talking.
While this makes us feel very clever, it kills the potential for really understanding the other person’s perspective.
Inside your mind, you should be in acceptance mode when someone is talking to you. Just hear their words and observe their expressiveness without judging, labeling, categorizing or compartmentalizing.
Every time I have checked myself and stopped “disagreeing inside my mind” with someone as they are speaking, I have learned important things about their perspective and view of the world that I would never have imagined.
6. Take notes later on
This is an interesting strategy I started doing to help me recall information better from spontaneous conversations.
I would listen closely and be as present as possible with the other person in the moment.
And then later on I would take a few minutes, get a piece of paper or a word processor, and do a brain dump of everything I learned.
I would repeat this process over and over again with each new person I met.
This does two interesting things.
First, it helps your memory and information recall massively.
Second, it makes your brain “sit up and pay attention” in the moment because your subconscious knows that there will be a “quiz,” so to speak, later on. This makes you a better listener.