How to become a better listener

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Just think back: how many encounters or conversations did you have in the last few days that gave you energy? Did you feel you made a connection when you spoke to those people? Did you listen carefully to what they had to say? Were they really listening to you and paying attention to your message?

Listening can be one of the hardest things. I am ashamed to say that I can be a very bad listener sometimes. However, when I focus myself and make an effort, I can also be a good listener. At least, that is what some people tell me. And those are the conversations that actually help me and give me energy. Sometimes I can also see it energizes the people I speak with. So it is a win win situation. Still: I want to be a much, much better listener!

Balance is the key

My kids love their tablets. We are careful they don’t spend too much time on them and they also play outside a lot, with each other and with their friends. But it can be hard to find that perfect balance each and every day. I often think back to my youth in which I spent a lot of time reading comics and books. Personally, I don’t think it is that much different from spending time on a tablet. But balance is the key. As it is with most things in life.

I realise that – since I work at home a lot – they also see their father spending a lot of time behind his laptop in the living room. I have to be careful not to send them that message too often.

Because when we are being sucked into our screens like that listening becomes impossible! Just ask your kid that is watching a video on his tablet something. You will not get a real reply. Same goes for me when I am working on my laptop. Start talking to me and I will most likely miss your message.

I want to become a better listener and I also want to give my kids the example of being a good listener. So, how can I become a better listener? These are five simple things I will start practicing during every encounter from now on.

1. Face the speaker and send your attention

Makes sense, doesn’t it? But in fact, the thing we face most during the day is the screen on our phone, tablet or laptop. So, when you are behind such a screen. Take your eyes off it and put it away, if possible. Close your laptop or put down your tablet or phone. It will still be there when you are finished with your conversation. Face the speaker and take a few deep breaths. When you face someone that is speaking, you send him your attention and energy. Also, don’t just stare at someone that is speaking but face him and send the message that you are listening. Hear what is being said, try to understand the message and make confirming sounds like ‘hmmhmm’ and nod your head.

2. Have an open mind and become a better listener

This is one of my pitfalls. Chances are you have a different opinion on topics than the person that is speaking. Try not to let these get in the way. While talking, my mind is always working on forming an opinion or a solution. When it is ready I want to get it out as fast as I can before I forget it. All that time I am definitely not listening! I have to remind myself to let the person speak and take my time to grasp the essence of that message. Really try to understand his point of view. When the person speaking is finished, you can ask a question or even give a short summary in the form of a question before you speak your mind.

3. Pay attention to nonverbal cues

We have to realise that a large part of the message someone is sending is being sent through nonverbal cues. When you face someone, you can actually pick those up! Is someone happy, nervous, angry, sad, feeling guilty etc. That gives us much more information than the actual words that are being spoken. Many books are available on these cues and how you can recognize them. I personally believe we all have the natural instinct to distinguish them anyway. No books needed here.

4. Ignore or mute incoming notifications

When you receive an electronic message during your conversation. Ignore it! I know it can be hard. But the message will still be there when your conversation is over. Just keep in mind: each time you will check a notification while talking to your kids, you are sending them a very bad example.

5. Make quality time for speaking and listening

In our busy lives with two small kids I have the best conversations with my wife when we are: eating dinner together, driving somewhere in the car, taking a walk with the dog or riding our bike someplace. I want to make the most of these times. So, when we are doing these things I am careful not to pick up my phone and waste the opportunity.

Thanks for reading. Have fun listening!

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