How many times have you missed out on what someone was really saying because you were too busy thinking about how you were going to respond? How many times have you filled in a blank when someone paused, and had it be completely different than what they were going to say? How many times have you had to ask someone to repeat something because you weren’t fully engaged in what they were saying?
Listening isn’t an ability you’re born with. It’s something you can learn to do. As I’ve worked to be a better listener, I’ve found that improving myself in three areas has made a huge difference. By developing these traits, it’s become easier for me to really tune in to what the people around me are saying and fully understand what they’re trying to communicate.
1. Patience: If you’re that guy who’s always filling in the blanks for someone, it might be time to ask yourself how patient you really are. Filling in the pauses of a conversation is sometimes instinctual. It may feel like you’re doing it to show the other person that you’re engaged and listening. But for many of us, it has a lot less to do with being supportive and a lot more to do with hurrying the other person to the end of their sentence.
Active listening means cultivating the patience to put your desire to respond on the back burner. Practice patience to give the person you’re listening to the chance to fully express themselves.
2. Confidence: How do you feel when you’re facilitating a conversation? Actively listening to a group of people can be intimidating. Instead of asking questions, sitting back, and absorbing the answers, you waste brain power by worrying about what you’re going to do next. Before you know it you’re asking people to repeat themselves and still not fully understanding what they’re saying.
Whether it’s facilitating a group or talking one on one with a potential new client, active listening requires confidence. It means turning off your own thoughts to leave space for what they’re saying. Practicing this in comfortable conversations can help you build up confidence in more intimidating conversations. As your confidence grows, so will your ability to listen in stressful situations.
3. Presence: If you end a conversation with a clearer idea of what you’re going to eat for dinner than what the other person wants or needs, it’s time to work on being present. Being a great listener means being actively involved in the conversation. It means tuning out distractions (even closing your eyes if that helps) and being absolutely present.
Presence in a conversation may not come naturally. It’ll also feel really exhausting. If you do it right, you’ll leave the conversation feeling drained. But the effort you put into shutting out distractions and really focusing will pay off in a much deeper understanding of what that person is trying to say.
Incorporating these three traits into how you listen (and your life) will transform what you get out of every conversation. If your goal is to be a better listener, patience, confidence, and presence are where you need to start.