To how many of you has it happened to feel discouraged and disappointed in your communication with someone? It might be his lack of attention, or the way he keeps interrupting you in mid-sentence. The possibilities are endless.
And to how many of you has it happened to be unable to follow someone’s speech, your partner’s outpouring, a friend’s confession, etc. Even if we want to, sometimes it’s just impossible to keep our attention on what we hear, which typically means that we’re not listening. And that, of course, is offensive for the one sitting in front of us – our speech partner.
Not paying attention or otherwise said – not listening is a tendency that spreads widely every single day. The growth of social media has further deepened that problem, presenting us with one more distraction from our currents tasks.
There can be numerous reasons for not being able to follow someone’s speech. Most often that is our distraction. There’re so many outer factors that can distract us all the time that it’s completely possible to find ourselves focusing on some of them instead. Such distractions can be, for example: social media, personal problems, peculiar neighbors, last night’s football game, etc.
Other frequent reason is focusing on what we’re going to say next. We tend to prepare our answer or statement even before hearing out our partner. This distracts us from paying attention on what is actually being said and might result in complete misunderstanding and frustration.
A reason can also hide behind the talking skills of the speaker. If we’re the one speaking, we should be able to engage the listener/s in what we’re saying. That means that we should be active with our speech. We should articulate it clearly and keep our audience alert with what we’re about to say next. That’s what a skillful public speaker does. But even in everyday conversations, we shouldn’t forget to keep our listeners engaged in our story. This is another way of listening, which I would elaborate on in another post.
Listening isn’t easy. It doesn’t come granted. There’re skills that should be developed and cultivated in order to become an active and efficient listener. We hardly realize it, but I think for many of us listening is probably the most difficult part of communication. It requires concentration, engagement, patience, response, and empathy. I often find it very difficult to focus on a long speech, lecture or even family dialogue, because I keep thinking about all the other things I could be doing in that moment. And that isn’t good.
Listening is an active process. Have you noticed that sometimes you feel drained after listening to someone, even if the story was good and interesting? That’s because you’ve spent energy on it. And that is great!
How to become an Active Listener
If you want to improve your listening skills, there’s no other way, but to work on them. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but life is a constant training, especially when lived intentionally. Opportunities arise every day and lessons are learned all the time. One of the crucial factors for your success in everything that you do, listening included, is your inner discipline and your firm decision to improve. The more you practice, the better you’ll become. Then follow success and personal satisfaction. Here are a few tips to help you on your journey to becoming an active listener. You can’t put into practice all of them, but depending on the conversation, you will easily find which ones work best for you.
- Focus on your partner. Don’t get distracted by external factors as television, mobile phone, etc. This will encourage your partner to share more information with you without feeling left in the periphery of your attention.
- Be interested. And that has nothing to do with act interested. Even if the conversation isn’t very fulfilling for you, try and find at least one thing to hang on to. It might be just a word, a sentence or a phrase. There’s always something new to learn about. Provoke your curiosity.
- Ask questions. When you hear something that resonates, ask a question about it. No, that doesn’t mean to interrupt your partner in mid-sentence. Just wait until a gap opens and pose your question then.
- Show empathy. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. This will help you to understand him much better and will keep you engaged in the conversation. Also, your partner will surely appreciate it and will be more likely to come to you again in the future.
- Paraphrase with your own words what you’ve understood. It will prove that you’re paying attention.
- If you catch yourself drifting off topic, don’t be ashamed to admit it. A simple “Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. You were saying…” would be enough to get you back on track.
Keep in mind that every situation is unique. You can’t compare a lecture to an over-coffee chitchat. It’s the attitude that matters. A good listener will always be preferred next to a poor one. After all, we all seek understanding and compassion from time to time. Being able to give them back as well will surely pay off some day.
Do you find it difficult to keep focused in a conversation? What are your tips and tricks for paying attention? Feel free to share them in the comments below.