Your friend has been talking for two or three minutes. You nod, smile and then begin to panic a little, because you suddenly realize that you have been zoned out the entire time and haven’t heard a word that he’s said.
Well, you heard noises coming from his lips, but you weren’t truly listening to the words that were being spoken.
That’s why when your friend finally looks at you and asks, “So, what should I do?,” you blink a few times in embarrassment and try to change the subject.
Most of us would like to connect better with others…but the truth is, being a good listener takes focus and work, according to Lauren Zander, life coach and regular Daily Health News contributor. Yep, you heard that right—work! Listening isn’t a passive skill, Zander said—it’s an active skill, a muscle that you need to train so it gets stronger. The good news is that it’s possible to develop the skill of being present in conversation, and it isn’t hard to do.
But why go to the trouble of doing it at all? The payoff, said Zander, is that you’ll feel closer to your spouse, friends, family members and coworkers than ever before—and they’ll like you and respect you more than they ever have.
The biggest mistake that people make during conversation is thinking that simply “showing up” is enough, said Zander. “Listening is about more than just looking someone in the eye and keeping quiet,” she said. “Your mind has to be fully engaged.”
When another person is talking, if you find yourself mostly thinking about what you’re going to say next…or daydreaming about what you’re going to make for lunch…or wondering whether the person you’re looking at dyes his or her hair….then you’re not really listening. To break this habit: Whenever you are in a conversation, ask yourself whether there is a voice—your inner voice—chatting away inside your head. And if there is, Zander said, “Take steps to shut it up.”
How do you do that? Prioritize. Make the person who is talking your number-one priority, and make everything else that comes sweeping through your brain during that conversation less of a priority. Don’t worry—you can (and probably should) quickly change your priority once the conversation ends.
For example, if you start thinking of something else during a conversation, such as whether you left the hall light on in the house, tell yourself “That can wait” and then return your full attention to the other person. If necessary, say, “Excuse me, I zoned out for a second. Would you please repeat that last thing you said?” It’s as if you’re driving a car and you wander out of your lane. Get back in between the lines, before you veer off into another place entirely!
When you’re not just physically present but also mentally present during a conversation, you can absolutely bet that your conversation partner will notice it—and appreciate it. You will strengthen the relationship between you and the other person, deepening your understanding of each other—because true listening signals to the other person that you really care and that he can trust you. And that means that his communications to you will become fuller and more honest…and vice versa!
It won’t take long before listening well becomes more of a habit…less like work…and truly enjoyable. Try it!
Source: Lauren Zander, cofounder and chairman, The Handel Group, New York City. www.HandelGroup.com