How To Become A Better Listener: Blog Series Part 1
“What makes a person good a communication?” Some people think it is the vocabulary and an ability to speak in front of crowds. Others think it is the power to captivate readers. Again, some think it is a tone of voice. I get asked a lot about good communication. I take that people want to become better at communication to develop their skillset and to make their relationships easier. With a degree in Communications, I have gotten to study many forms of communication. When people ask what makes a person good at communication my response is always: A good communicator is a good listener.
Why Listening Makes You Better At Communication
You might ask why I consider the skill of listening (yes, skill) more influential than the rest of the skills of communication? I find that there are at least two reasons for that.
First, listening is the form of communication that we will do the most in life. According to Adler & Proctor (2014), 60% of our communication is listening. That in itself should make listening an important skillset because it is the one we are going to use the most.
Second, relationships are built on listening to each other. Actually, “failing to listen” is considered the biggest reason for conflicts in marriages. Generally speaking, good relationships are built on showing each other attention while sharing thoughts, emotions, and information. Paying attention when others are speaking is essentially the definition of good listening.
I would like to add that in conflicts, the discipline to listen attentively is a huge game changer. Though I write a lot about conflict resolution on this blog, I don’t want you to think I have conflicts with people all the time. Truthfully, I used to hate conflicts. But, I have learned to appreciate conflict as a normal thing in relationships. Conflicts are just another way of working together on a solution.
In order to go into depth with the skill of listening, I need to split up the subject into a number of posts. In this first post, I will define what listening really is. I will also describe the process that goes into mindful listening. In the next article, I will write about some of the things that keep us from paying attention when we are supposed to listen. The third and fourth posts deal with listening styles and listening responses.
What Is Listening Then?
Not everything that we hear requires ‘listening’. Music, cars, birds singing, ceiling fans are all objects that can make noise, but it is okay to zone out and not pay attention to it. You might object by saying: ”But, hearing is a crucial part of listening!” I agree, yet not all things we hear requires equal attention.
Some would say that “mindless” is equivalent to “dumb” or “unintentional”. But, when it comes to listening, mindless listening is a necessity for staying sane. Mindless listening happens when you listen to a message, but your brain is on autopilot. An example could be the radio going on in the background while cooking or having the news on while doing laundry. We listen to countless amounts of communication pieces daily and would go absolutely insane if we had to pay attention to everything. However, mindless listening is not respectful and appropriate in a conversation. A good listener knows when to listen mindfully and when it is okay to zone out.
This listening style is put to practice when we care about the topic or the person speaking. Mindful listening requires (1) attention, (2) attempting to understand, (3) response, and (4) remembrance. We often listen attentively when a message is important to ourselves. This takes little effort. However, a good communicator also pays attention to messages that are important to others. This means showing interest even when there is no apparent advantage for us.
Attention strengthens the relationship between the person listening and the one speaking. When we pay attention it not only help us to listen better, it also helps the person talking communicate clearer. It can be very disheartening and distracting as a speaker when seeing our words are wasted on someone who doesn’t seem to be present. Be mindful, by looking at the person while they speak. Put the phone away, press pause on all the other things going on at the moment, and show respect and attention.
2. Attempt To Understand
Trying to make sense of a message requires engagement. This means asking questions and paraphrasing. Think of the details in the communication you are receiving, and what more you need to know to understand better.
When we ask questions, we want to do it in a nonaggressive way. It can be intimidating if a listener is asking questions such as: “Why did you do that?” or “Are you sure that’s correct?” Even though we might not mean it aggressively, we should monitor the way we respond. In the fourth article in this series, Powerful Listening Responses And How To Apply Them, I go through the guidelines for questioning.
A response can both be verbal and non-verbal. Non-verbal responses are also referred to as “observable feedback”. These are facial or body gestures we do to show that we are listening. This can be a simple thing, such as sitting down when a person asks for a moment of your time. It can also mean nodding, eye-contact, and a smile. Non-verbal responses are considered the most important listening requirement when communicating with children.
Verbal responses can extend from answering questions to “Oh, I see..”. Conversation is never meant as a one-way street and requires engagement from the other side to have meaning. It goes without saying that showing some sort of response to the communication we receive, sends a signal to the other person that we are listening. If we don’t respond at all, they might think we didn’t hear them, or worse, that we are ignoring them.
Responding is also a virtue when it comes to online communication. Though my focus in this article is on interpersonal communication, any sort of communication requires an acknowledgment for engagement. If you get a text or an email, the only way to show that you received it or read it is to respond.
I know I am pointing out the obvious, but nowadays it is common for people to not respond to communication. I am guilty of it sometimes too. All it takes is a “got it,” or “I’ve read it and I will respond in detail later,” or even “I just saw you called me. Can I call you back next week.” Acknowledging communication shows that you value the connection you have with the other person.
Being able to recall information and the stories we were told is evidence of paying attention. Most people forget up to 65% of the information they were given after just 8 hours. I was amazed when I read this statistic, but also a little scared. No one I know would admit to that, but the research is pretty convincing. You see now why it can be helpful to pay attention when someone is talking?
By using the steps: Attention, Attempt To Understand, and Response, we make it easier for ourselves to remember details later. That is why these four steps are effective in mindful listening and why they all need to be put into practice.
When trying to repair or maintain romantic relationships it is necessary to listen attentively to one another. This means both verbally and non-verbally. The investment in listening shows your partner that you are working on and nurturing the relationship.
I would love to hear your thoughts on listening. Why is listening valuable in your relationships? Also, what challenges do you experience in listening to others? Listening is not always easy. If you are looking for advice on how to get through conflicts in a productive and helpful way then you should read this article. Thank you for reading this far. Please leave a comment below.
“My child, listen to what I say and treasure my commands. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.” (NLT)
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is meant as help and is for general informational purposes only. Meaning, do not consider this as legal advice or a consultation. To clarify, I am a communication strategist and consultant with a degree in Communications, and I teach on conflict resolution and communication skills. Surely, I love what I do, and my advice is always based on either textbook communication theory or empirical evidence. However, I cannot be held liable for how you apply my advice. Without a doubt, I hope you well and success in applying the views I share on this blog.