While hearing is an innate ability, listening is a practice. When we hear, our ears simply register sound, but when we listen we interpret the sounds we hear as a message. If you just hear rather than listen, however, you will miss out on a great deal of information that can quickly impact your social engagement with others.
In fact, most relationship conflicts begin with poor listening skills. Stephen Covey has stated that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” and when we listen with the intent to reply to our partners or loved ones, we often end up hurting their feelings, losing our connections with them, and missing opportunities in all aspects of life.
While you may not have learned listening skills before, you can become a better listener with practice.
8 Ways to Use a Listening Mindset to Strengthen Your Relationships
Let’s unpack eight simple tips you can use to improve your listening skills as well as your relationships with others.
1. Make the speaker the point of focus
Taking on a listening mindset is not about the listener, it’s about the speaker. Make the speaker your point of focus and remember that they are presenting you with a gift by indirectly inviting you into their world with a free ticket to explore their ideas.
Try to treat the practice of listening like meditation. If you feel your mind wander, bring it back to the point of focus (the other person).
2. Engage with them
Crossing your arms, sighing, or looking away can signal to the speaker that you are disinterested in what they have to say. Eye contact shows that you are focused on the conversation. It makes the speaker feel seen and heard.
Make an effort to provide them with your full attention and reinforce this action with visual cues and facial expressions. You can try simply nodding your head or saying words of affirmation such as “mmm” or “that’s interesting.” These gestures will encourage the speaker to continue speaking with you and make them feel at ease.
3. Keep an open mind
You compromise your effectiveness as a listener when you assume you already know everything a speaker is preparing to say. Let go of your preconceived ideas and give yourself a fresh slate on which to record the new information.
The most intelligent people always keep an open mind and admit that they have more to learn. They take every opportunity to expand their minds by learning new concepts. One of the best ways to do this is by listening to others.
4. Stop worrying about your response
Rather than focusing on your response, direct your attention to comprehending what is being said to you. You can’t be listening to your own thoughts and their thoughts at the same time.
Usually, people just want to be heard. If someone wants help, they will ask, otherwise they may not be open to receiving advice anyway.
5. Ask engaging questions
Listening is essentially a collaborative process. Be sure to wait for a lull to pose your questions rather than interrupting the speaker; this is ego-based action that tells the speaker you feel what you have to say is more important than what they are saying.
When you do reply, try to do so with a question that sparks further conversation. Avoid simple “yes” or “no” questions. Rather, explore their perspective and ask questions to delve deeper into their mindset. Ensure that what you are asking helps to expand and enhance the conversation.
An excellent way to show that you are listening is by summarizing what the speaker just said. Try saying things such as, “so what I am hearing is…” Summarizing a speaker’s main points can also help you to organize the information you just heard and process it.
7. Be empathetic
Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Empathy allows you to treat the speaker with compassion and when you allow yourself to emotionally connect with their experiences, you form a deeper connection to and greater sense of trust with them.
8. Embrace silence
Some people get uncomfortable with silence in a conversation, but the right amount of silence can be good for both speakers and listeners.
Rather than trying to fill in pauses during the conversation, allow your speaking partner to take the lead. Be patient and give them adequate time and space to ponder and explore their thoughts and feelings.
Taking a moment before responding will also prevent you from interrupting them. It also lets them know you are happy to listen and are not rushing to change the subject.
The Bottom Line
Listening is a vital skill for building and strengthening every relationship in your life. It shows social competency and a willingness to learn and grow.
You can become a better listener with consistent practice. For additional support, learn how working with an Arootah coach can empower you to improve your work and personal relationships for greater opportunities and fulfillment.