Five Ways to Listen Better

To be truly heard and understood is a core human need, yet how often do we feel heard? And more so, how often do we take the time to really listen to someone else?

Listening does not come naturally. We want to be heard far more than we want to hear.

It’s rarely ill-intentioned. Often, we enthusiastically want to relate and show we understand or share their concern, or have had a similar experience. However, the outcome is the opposite: the relationship suffers, and the other person feels less connected, and more frustrated.

To improve your active listening, try these tips from experts:

1. Stop talking. The simplest but hardest tip of all. Give the other person space to talk, even after they seem to run out of puff. Often people only get to the real point after they have covered the superficial talk. Use the acronym WAIT to remind yourself: W.A.I.T stands for “Why Am I Talking?”

2. Clear your mind. Adam Bryant, author of The Corner Office and The CEO Test, says we should “think of listening as a form of meditation. You have to clear your mind of everything else, so you can focus entirely on what the other person is saying.” Bryant advises putting your phone down, and if you are at your desk, turning your chair around so you are not looking at the monitor.

3. Don’t jump ahead. “The best kind of listening is about being comfortable not knowing what you’re going to say next, or what question you might ask,” says Bryant. Have faith in your ability to respond naturally and sincerely to the other person, without formulating your response while they are talking.

4. Remove judgement. “Listening, done well, is an act of empathy. You are trying to see the world through another person’s eyes, and to understand their emotions,” Bryant says. Judging the other person for their words, tone of voice, actions or reactions is not going to help you achieve empathy.

5. Aim to learn. Use every conversation as a chance to learn more – about a topic, about a person. Billionaire venture capitalist and co-founder of LinkIn, Reid Hoffman, says the most important quality he looks for in employees is an “infinite learning curve.” “I’m looking for an ability to be learning constantly, and fast.”

Bryant adds, “If you show interest and energy, people will respond and share what they know and how they learned it. It’s a fast and free education, plus you’ll build relationships.”

Common listening mistakes to avoid

  • Getting distracted. Someone is talking, but you are thinking about what to cook for dinner. You could be making eye contact and saying “yeah” and “OK” in all the right places, but you are not really listening.
  • Adding your anecdote. We often want to show we understand, and that we have shared a similar experience, and so off we go with a “yes, the same thing happened to me!” story, and we have hijacked the other person’s conversation.
  • Waiting to talk. You know how it feels: you get the very clear sense that the other person is just waiting for your noise to stop, before they say their piece. They haven’t listened, they just want to make their argument, or say something clever.