Become a Better Conversationalist by Improving Your Listening Skills!
Do you struggle developing friendships? Are you wondering how to be a better conversationalist, but struggle with finding the right words to say? Maybe you've noticed you don't listen well to the people you love. You want to improve, but you aren't sure how.
Listening Is More Important Than Talking!
The great news is you don't need to worry about what to say to be an excellent conversationalist. With the proper use of listening, we can make more friends, have better relationships with the friends we have, improve our relations at work, and more! How we listen is a far more important than knowing the right thing to say.
People are generally more interested in being heard, and understood, than in what you have to say. Focusing on, and engaging with what others have to say can make us more likable, relatable, and connected!
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” - Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Becoming an Active Listener
Active Listening is one of the most important skills you can learn. It's taught in workforce development, manager training, counseling, conflict resolution, and professional sales training.
Today, more than ever, it's difficult to be an effective listener. Our phones are constantly vying for our attention, and we've become accustomed to brief bursts of information. Life is fast paced and information dense. It's no wonder many of us have difficulty really listening!
If we focus on becoming better listeners, having the right words to say becomes much less important.
Learning how to give others attention can come along with many rewards. You can probably think of someone who is good at sales, has lots of friends, or is generally successful. Very often, it's because they know how to show attention to the people in their lives. Think of someone who remembers birthdays, the names of people they meet, and their interests. That type of care goes a long way!
A good listener is valued wherever they go. Someone who thinks that they are a good talker may be loathed everywhere they go, but they’ll never know. They’re too busy talking.
“The less you talk about yourself, and the more you put the spotlight on the other person, the more they will actually like you in return.” - Arel Moodie, The Art of Likability
How Exactly Does Active Listening Work?
I've broken it up into a few steps, to make it simple. Active Listening is a powerful tool that can improve our relationships and make navigating conversations much easier.
The first part is to really listen. Focusing our attention, and listening, might be the hardest part. Our minds are accustomed to flitting from subject to subject and wandering everywhere but the present moment. Don't plan out the best response, or interrupt because you thought of a related story. Listen. Really Listen. Your presence is one of the most valuable gifts that you can offer, and it doesn't cost you anything!
While listening, it can be helpful to nod and offer some affirming sounds so that they know you are engaged. Short words or exclamations such as “Oh?”, “Right!” or “Excellent!” help too. Keep these affirmations short so that they can continue speaking, with the assurance that you're engaged.
To grow friendships, and build relationships, you don't have to be charismatic. If you can truly listen and offer people the attention they desire, it can make all of the difference in the world. It takes time and care to develop your listening skills. However, being a good listener takes less energy than trying to come up with the perfect thing to say.
Here we can follow up with something that relates back what we heard. This step is important. If you immediately follow up with a question, come off like an interrogator. The follow up statement is built from some of the information you received. This allows the both of you to be sure you understood correctly. Even if it's not something you are likely to have misunderstood, this follow-up statement is part of the mechanics of good conversation. It's a social nicety that makes everyone feel better, even when it's not "necessary." Often enough, however, it *is* necessary. Very often, we don't understand what people are trying to relate. Our feedback assures us both that we are on the same page. This isn't time to give advice, which is a trap that men often fall into. If somebody wants advice, they will most likely ask you for it.
Next, we can ask a question related to the subject we've been listening to. The follow-up question gives them a chance to expand upon the subject they started with. It also offers a sense of caring and shows our interest. If you can help it, stay away from “yes or no” questions, or anything with a simple answer.
Becoming skilled at the art of active listening gives you the ability to have long, in-depth, conversations without having to talk very much! With practice, this can become a natural component of our communication toolkit. When the person you are conversing with finally realizes that you've barely talked at all, they are likely to have a much greater appreciation for you.
Listen. Affirm. Summarize. Ask.
The steps are simple. The hard part is keeping them in mind, and developing the habit. Remaining present when people are communicating with us is at the core. Head nods and other small affirmations act as a lubricant for the conversation. They give the positive feedback which helps the person speaking to feel like we are paying attention. Once they've completed their thought, a statement replaying some of what was said offers more affirmation. It also might tease out some other details that they hadn't gotten to yet. When we ask a question to hear more about what they were saying, this is another way to show our care.
At this point, we don't want to keep asking question after question. Instead, we go back to the beginning. Listen, Affirm, Summarize, Ask. There are most likely Active Listening meetups in your area, where you can engage with other people who want to practice. I've found it's easy to practice in chat, as well. You can use it with co-workers, clients, your boss, your mom! There are many opportunities to practice and develop our Active Listening skills. The important part is taking the initiative, and making it a priority.
Caring for the People in Our Lives
Reviewing the steps, it becomes clear that active listening is all about caring for other people. We show that we care by how we listen and engage with what they have to say. Not always because we are interested in what they have to say, but because we care about them as a person.
Using this highly successful strategy for communication directs us to become less concerned about ourselves in a conversation. Drawing our focus to the people in our lives improves their esteem for us, and nurtures those relationships. Not only does it offer us a lot of advantages, its a way to treat others with kindness, respect, and dignity.
© 2018 Jonathan Livingston