My mother used to tell me, “You have two ears, but only one mouth. It’s more important to listen than it is to talk.”
But with all the chatter out there, it seems that most of us are enamored by the sound of our own voices – and are more comfortable running our mouths than opening our ears.
That can be a real problem – not only in our personal relationships, but in the workplace, too. Listening – really listening – takes considerable effort. Most people engaged in a conversation are more interested in what they will say next than what the other person is sharing.
But as Michael Nichols, author of The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships, explains, the essence of listening, "…can be achieved only by suspending our preoccupation with ourselves and entering into the experience of the other person."
So how do we dial down the self-absorbed chatter and listen more intently to the other person in the conversation? In her article, Hear This: Unleash the Power of Listening and Improve Business Relationships, Priscilla Kohl suggests the following tactics:
1) Give your undivided attention to the speaker. If you’re speaking face-to-face, maintain good eye contact. Even if you’re talking on the phone, stop everything that you are doing. Many of us have multi-tasking tendencies. However, our focus should be on the person talking, thus reassuring them that they have our full attention.
2) Be sensitive of the speaker. If they appear nervous, ignore the body language and instead pick up on the message and the words being expressed. Also, by helping speakers relax, you will find them growing more at ease with you. Normally, relaxed speakers convey more authentic or candid thoughts and views.
3) Avoid interrupting, giving advice or steering the conversation away from the point(s) being made by the speaker. A listener can make comments or express body language without interrupting the speaker. For instance, a good listener can be responsive by sharing an appropriate smile or a word or two that do not interrupt the flow. Simple body language techniques such as shaking one’s head or raising an eyebrow will connect the listener with a speaker. Simple words like "yes" and "go on" let the speaker know you are engaged.
4) Listen very closely to points that you may disagree with. A poor listener often has their mind made up and shows it. Instead, be open and take a naïve approach to what the speaker is saying. Acknowledge what they are trying to get across. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with or condone what is being said; it just means that you’re not constantly thinking about your next rebuttal.
5) Mentally collect and organize the speaker’s main points. Try not to think about something else while another person is talking. Also by mentally processing what the speaker is saying, a good listener avoids the trap of immediately reacting before it’s their turn to speak.