Scientific research has shown that while speaking raises blood pressure, listening brings it down and that’s not the only benefit. At work, active listening can lead to better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, and increased sharing of information, which in turn, can lead to more creative and innovative work. At home, it can bring the family closer and make members better equipped to deal with crises and conflicts. At school or college, it can be invaluable for students, whose goal is to learn new skills. Read on to find out how to harness the power of active listening.
1. Maintain Eye Contact
With so many distractions surrounding you, it can be difficult to focus your attention on the things that truly matter. Listening, therefore, conveys your sincerity to the speaker. Avoid checking your phone or looking over the speaker’s shoulder to see what others are up to, and instead, pay attention to what they are saying. At times, they may not maintain eye contact out of fear, shyness, uncertainty, guilt, or even a cultural taboo, but don’t let that deter you. Looking and listening at the person who’s talking is basic courtesy.
2. Visualize To Empathize
It’s easy to be distracted or bored if the speaker is saying something you cannot relate to, so make an effort to understand the content of his words. Imagine yourself in their shoes, going through what they’re sharing with you, and it will be easier for you to relate to them. Picture the situation they are describing with the help of visual cues and imagery. This will help you focus, and will prepare you to respond appropriately.
3. Save The Questions For Later
When approached by someone in trouble, our first instinct is to offer advice. The truth is, most people just want someone to listen to them, and can usually figure out solutions on their own. If you feel the speaker is recounting their issues too slowly, refrain from egging them on or finishing their sentences. This is downright rude, and distracts them from their narration, stretching out the process even longer. If you are absolutely convinced you have something to say that can help the person, gently wait for a pause in their speech to ask if they would like to hear your thoughts or ideas. Be prepared to hear a no.
4. Provide Valuable Feedback
Of course, we’re not recommending you sit mutely and simply absorb everything like a sponge. Do chime in every now and then with some verbal (hmm, uh-huh) and non-verbal (a nod, raised eyebrows or a pat) feedback to let the speaker know you are involved in the conversation. You could rephrase something they’ve said such as “I can see that you’re sad about it” or “you must be thrilled”, to engage them even further. Hearing people out and understanding their stories gives you a broader perspective on life.
Active listening is referred to as an art, because it takes practice and patience to develop. Use this skill to become a better parent, co-worker or student, and you will notice the positive change it brings about.