Did you hear what was said?
Instead of asking whether we heard a person, we should be checking to see whether we are listening. There’s a big difference between hearing and listening, says Scott Aylwin, Senior Director, Operations, Addiction and Mental Health.
“Hearing is passive, but listening takes work,” says Scott.
It’s worth the effort, he says. Most of us could be better listeners when we’re conversing with others, and enjoy the benefits, such as improved relationships, that come as a result.
Who needs to be good listeners? “Only people who want to have relationships,” says Scott.
“I may think I know what my wife is going to say a lot of the time, but in fact I don’t. So I need to be careful that I’m truly paying attention,” he explains. “Otherwise, our relationship would erode over time. A good listener always allows the other person to feel they are being heard.”
Scott says it isn’t hard to improve your listening skills.
Focus on the person, says Scott. “We can’t do more than one thing at a time. That means not looking at our cellphones during a conversation. Give your conversation partner your undivided attention.”
Watch your body language
Your body language sets the emotional tone for a conversation. “My posture needs to reflect that I’m giving you my energy and attention. So I’m not slouched in a chair, looking dismissive or fidgeting,” he says. Instead, “Sit up or even lean towards your conversation partner. It conveys respect and interest. So does consistent eye contact.”
Don’t interrupt or one-up
Give the other person time to finish their thought before responding. And focus on the other’s needs, not just your own, adds Scott. If someone tells you they caught a fish, don’t tell them about a bigger fish you landed.
Effective listening requires respect and a certain openness to others, explains Scott. That might mean keeping cultural biases and opinion differences in check so you can be a respectful listener.
Bring your humanity
Everybody wants to be heard, says Scott. “It is a universal imperative.” We should strive to bring our humanity to each conversation. If someone is depressed or anxious, using subtle encouragement like nodding your head can help keep them engaged in conversation. It also sends the message that you are paying attention.