28 April 2021

Are You a Good Listener? Find out What It Takes!

Listening in this era of mediated communication has definitely become a lost art. Although we’re living in a high-speed, stressful time where communication is given more importance than before, yet we still neglect our attention towards listening. According to BBC News, humans have a shorter average attention time span than a goldfish! We have an eight-second attention span compared to a goldfish that have nine seconds. But, the good part about being a human is that we possess the ability to train ourselves to do absolutely anything including active listening.

Active listening is a form of listening that keeps you positively engaged in a conversation. It’s the act of paying attention as someone else talks by paraphrasing and reflecting what they’ve said without adding any of your own judgements. This is crucial because it helps to build a better relationship with other people and solve each other’s problems which can make them feel valued or heard. Therefore, it’s necessary for us to improve our listening skills not just for other people but also for ourselves so that we’re not left behind while the world moves forward. So, here are a few ways that can help us become better listeners.

#1. Maintaining eye contact


It doesn’t take much to be a good listener to begin with but the right question would be how engaged are you in your conversations? Are you paying attention to the speaker or are you zoning out into your own la-la land? Assuming your answer is in favour of proving the point, this clarifies that it’s quite difficult for us to provide our undivided attention during a conversation without being distracted by our surroundings. Hence, maintaining eye contact is one of the biggest steps towards being a better listener. Eye contact is essential as it allows people to show that they’re listening and that they respect what others have to say. It also increases the likelihood that they’ll remember the information from the conversation.

Whilst it’s impossible for us to apply this concept in mediated conversations, it can be altered to disciplining ourselves to pay attention during calls or texting. Don’t explore other apps or do anything else when you’re on the phone as it diminishes the purpose. Also, this means we shouldn’t form our response or opinions while the other person is talking. You’ve to learn how to be present instead of multitasking and just listen.


#2. Keeping an open mind


Subsequently, keeping an open mind is very important. Research demonstrates that we become inefficient listeners when we try to make the new knowledge obtained from conversations fit with pre-existing representation that we already hold. This can keep us close-minded and rapidly jump to conclusions. When a listener simply listens to the speaker to assess if they are correct or incorrect, rather than listening to understand the speaker's thoughts and where they come from, this is known as judgmental listening. This type of critical listening prevents the audience from completely communicating with the speaker on their own terms, limiting the conversation's reach.

Carrying preconceived notions about the speaker or the content of a speech into a conversation further limits effective listening. So, listen without mentally forming your responses or anticipating what the speaker is going to say. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent their thoughts and feelings. You don't know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you'll find out is by listening. Make sure to work on temporarily suspending those associations in order to understand the speaker on their own terms.

#3. Relate to the speaker emotionally 


Furthermore, we can improve our listening skills by relating to the speaker emotionally, also known as empathetic listening. It’s a valuable trait for both third parties and disputants, since it encourages the listener to receive and fully comprehend the speaker's message, as well as respond appropriately. This also builds trust and respect in both parties plus it’s easier for us to give our full attention when the conversation is relatable. Through empathetic listening, we can let the speaker know that we understand what they’re going through and not judging them or their feelings in any way, by showing adequate interest in the conversation. Through words and nonverbal actions, such as body language, we unmistakably convey this message. We thus allow the speaker to completely articulate themselves without being interrupted, criticised, or told what to do.

To feel empathy, you must put yourself in the shoes of the other and encourage yourself to feel what it's like to be them at that particular moment. This isn’t a simple exercise to do. It requires a great deal of effort and focus. It is, however, a kind and supportive gesture that allows communication like nothing else. But, we also have to be mindful that the speaker is still the main character despite us being able to relate with their emotions so don’t end up steering the attention towards yourselves.

#3. Ask Questions 


Lastly, one of the simplest ways to be a better listener is by asking questions instead of making your own assumptions. This doesn't just clear any possible misconceptions or miscommunication but it also motivates the speaker to be more elaborate as you show interest in what they’ve to say. On the contrary, we know that it’s rude to interrupt the speaker and might be difficult to anticipate when they’ll be done. Even so, as long as you can figure that out, you're good to go. 

Let’s say your friend is telling you their experience exploring a new place, don't respond by saying, “That’s nice” or “Hmm sounds so good.” This way, you’ll be cutting the conversation short and it’ll be an unpleasant experience for both parties. Instead, try saying things like, “That sounds amazing! What was your favourite part of the trip?” Who knows, you might even feel like going on the same trip after listening to your friend. This further proves that a good listener indeed would ask pertinent questions to show that they’ve been listening and considering the details.

Listening actively will improve your relationship with everyone in your life. When people are so isolated due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are more important than ever! There are so many other ways to improve your listening skills than those listed above. Also, simply by being present, paying attention, and asking questions would make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters which leads you to develop stronger, more truthful, and deeper relationships. Honestly, who wouldn't want that? 

This skill is an essential one that is useful in every aspect of your life. Stephen R. once said, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." That is exactly what needs to be changed. So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears, use them!

Dhruvee Mukesh Kumar is currently pursuing Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) at Taylor's University. She is also currently trying to build a side career in the entertainment industry such as commercials and content creation. In her spare time, she loves creating watercolor paintings which later on she sells on her art page.

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Dhruvee Mukesh Kumar
Guest Contributor