Listening is an art. Do you know how to listen, or do you know how to hear? When you listen, you pay attention not only to what the person is saying, but also to how they are saying it. You take in their body language and notice unspoken messages. You check for understanding by repeating what they say as you understood it. Your intention is to understand the entire message.
Practicing your listening skills can greatly improve relationships. People like to be heard and understood. You cannot listen if you are thinking of the smart things you can say next. You cannot listen if you are focused on yourself and how you want to appear. Instead of trying to be interesting, just be interested.
When others have been heard and understood, they are more likely to listen to and understand you. They will share their true feelings more readily, and you will build rapport much more quickly. Get people talking! Ask them questions, put the focus on them, and be interested in their answers. By learning about them and how they feel about issues, you will expand your own way of thinking and build strong relationships.
When you listen to and validate people’s experiences, you create a space for them to feel safe with their feelings and with sharing them. Feelings can be incredibly scary, and people don’t always realize how strongly they feel about something until they start talking about it. People stuff their feelings inside because strong emotions can lead them to experience vulnerable situations.
Creating a safe space for sharing is critical when forming relationships. Maintain gentle eye contact, make sure your body language is expressing openness and a nonjudgmental attitude, do not make a sound until they are finished, and let them know that what they say is strictly confidential. Finally, make sure to check for understanding; it not only helps you understand fully, but it also helps them to understand their own feelings better.
Listening is just as much about asking specific questions as it is listening to people telling you about themselves. Ask questions that elicit more than a yes or no answer. Probe further and get the deeper messages. The person will be grateful that you took the time to get to know them and their feelings and interests.
You’ll quickly get an idea of the people you’d like to deal with by asking them questions and listening to how they respond. If someone acts guarded, vague or doesn’t want to answer your questions, you’ll know that you probably don’t have a good future with that person. Develop your listening skills, and you’ll save yourself time and effort when it comes to forming relationships.