Have you ever sat talking to someone when, their eyes start to wonder or they start looking at their phone or just simply interrupt you, so they can disagree or tell you their story?

I have, many times.

I know we’re all guilty of doing this now and again, but I’m starting to wonder why we have this inability to truly listen.

Do we generally listen to listen or do we listen to answer?

Most of us just can’t wait for the other person to finish talking so we can say our piece, give advice, say how we had it harder or our pain was worse or to judge. So while the other person is talking, our mind is racing with things we want to say and we aren’t really listening.

Why do we do this?

Is it because we just love talking about ourselves, or is it because we think we have something better to say or maybe it’s simply that we are not interested in what the other person has to say. Most of us are in our heads most of the time, thinking of too many things, so, we may be doing this unintentionally.

I thought I was a good listener but through my training I realized that: looking directly at the speaker, acknowledging what they are saying and maybe giving them some advice, equals good listening, but active listening is an art, and I had a lot to learn.

I have a friend whom I consider one of the most active listeners I know. When we’re having a conversation and I stop talking, she doesn’t jump right in, but just looks at me and nods for a few seconds. This makes me want to avoid the ‘awkward’ silence, but actually she is allowing me to continue talking. The ‘awkward ‘silence is an opportunity to show that you are there, present, ready to listen without interruption or judgement.

By truly listening, we create strong connections and trust with the people in our lives. We not only learn from the speaker, we gain their respect and build closer relationships.

Here are my tips on being an active listener:

Be 100% present: Look at the speaker directly and avoid distracting thoughts or environmental distractions.

Show that you’re listening: Smile and Nod occasionally. Use other facial expressions and encourage the speaker to continue, with small verbal comments like, yes and uh huh. Show That you welcome the silent moments.

Provide feedback: Reflect what is being said by using the same terminology and clarify certain points with questions.

No Judgment: Allow speaker to finish each point without interruptions and counter arguments.

Respond appropriately: Be honest and open, asserting your opinions respectfully and treat the person in the way he/she would want to be treated.

Old habits die hard and it will take lots of practice and a conscious effort to master the art of listening. Remind yourself that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying, setting aside all old behaviors, and concentrating on the message. Ask questions, reflect and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message.

Improve your communicator skills by practicing active listening techniques, resulting in better relationships; personal or work related.

Next time you choose to be in the company of someone, whether its family, friend or colleague, be present, respectful and considerate by actively listening.

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