It’s hard to be totally present and live in the moment.
Our internal monologue, list of things to do, and constant distractions make it difficult to slow down enough to actively listen.
But listening is the most important skill you can cultivate. It helps with work. It helps with relationships. And it slows you down enough to make better decisions.
When you actively listen, you hear the things that people are saying, but also you hear the things they’re not saying. Most importantly, it leads to better understanding and builds trust.
Here are 5 tips to build your active listening skills:
01. Only interrupt for clarity.
Many people think of a conversation as a tennis match. When you say something, they counter with their perspective. But there’s no need to one-up what someone else is saying. Instead, focus your attention on understanding and clarity.
02. Ask follow-up questions.
The best way to achieve clarity is to ask follow-up questions. Be genuinely interested in the thing that’s important to the person you’re talking to. Think from new angles and ask questions that show that you’re invested, like: “How did that make you feel?”
03. Give your undivided attention.
Put down your phone. Stop watching tv. And turn your full attention towards the person you’re talking to. It’s hard to open up even about the most mundane things, so it’s a beautiful feeling to have someone let go of all the distractions to be in the moment with you.
04. Don’t think about what you want to say next.
Full disclosure: I was not always the best listener. I was so focused on what I wanted to say next that I wouldn’t fully take in the words that I was actually hearing and instead jump ahead to false conclusions. But over the past few years, I’ve trained myself to slow down because I want the people I care about to feel the true value of being heard. It’s okay to not have the witty next comment or say the perfect thing. Instead your primary priority is echoing back what you heard them say.
05. Allow a pause before changing the subject.
Eventually, someone will come to a natural break in the conversation. But I’ve learned that you have to allow a little bit of a pause before you change the subject. We’ve all been taught to show the most perfect versions of ourselves, so even in our closest relationships, we’ll be slow to let all of our insecurities show. Save room for that vulnerability by pausing before moving the conversation in a new direction.