Listening is not always easy. These days, in particular, we are surrounded by constant noise, controversy and chaos. The most successful people on our planet are skilled at listening. As I mentioned in a previous article, my grandmother once said there’s a reason the words, “listen” and “silent” have the same letters. To be a good listener, we need to first learn how to be silent.
Start by reducing the noise.
A good listener turns down the “volume” of the environment. Without interrupting the other person, remove distractions. Turn off the television, set down the phone, close your computer and position yourself to pay attention. Don’t look at the time. (If time is an issue, let them know how much time you have.) If you’re in a public space, position yourself so you’re not tempted to look at passersby.
In silence, it's easier to take in what is and isn't being communicated.
Recognize there are issues below the surface that you cannot hear or see. Be aware of your own preconceptions and biases. Consider that the conflict may not be about you. Professional mediators recognize the challenges of accurately reading feelings and ideas people are (or aren’t) communicating. Only a few highly-regarded experts do this well, so unless you've got a strong foundation in reading people, be careful about your own assumptions.
Pay attention to how the person is communicating.
It is easier to discern emotions conveyed someone when tuning into their voice, so try closing or diverting your eyes. Make a mental note of their body language. Observe if they seem preoccupied, rushed or distracted. Try mirroring their body language as a way of connecting without saying anything.
You don't always need to talk.
While you may be a smart person who feels like you’ve got something worthwhile to say, withhold the urge to talk. Who knows, you may actually learn something! Plus, by remaining silent, you don’t risk saying something dumb. Download my listening skills checklist and keep it handy.
I challenge you to heed my grandmother’s wisdom and try listening in silence!