When you’re listening during a conversation, your focus should be on one thing–and no, no, not on yourself. Your focus instead needs to be on the other person you’re talking with.
Listening means basically the same thing as paying attention, and paying attention is basically focusing on one thing. Again, this should be on the other person you’re having a conversation with, not on yourself.
The Importance of Paying Attention
If you pay attention to the other person, that is, really pay attention, you should be comfortable and natural. That’s because you’ll no longer be worried about yourself and feeling self-conscious.
Studies show, however, that most people only listen to or remember about 25% to 50% of what other people say. This may partly explain why there are millions of people who suffer from social anxiety!
Being a great listener will surely alleviate anxiety, if not eliminate it.
Another benefit is it will make you more popular. In the classic book How To Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie says, “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested…Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering.”
How To Be All Ears
First, consider the things that impede listening and SUBTRACT them.
Here’s 6 things to GET RID OF:
- Thinking about what YOU’RE going to say next while the other person is talking. (If you’re rehearsing what to say next, you’re not paying attention.) If you just listen carefully, you’ll automatically know what to say in reply.
- Worrying about how you come across in general, such as unsure about what to do with your face or hands.
- Thinking about what the other person may be thinking of you, as opposed to thinking about what they’re saying.
- Mind wandering, perhaps set off by something that was said, leading to an internal mental chain reaction where you’ve moved into your own world of thoughts.
- Focusing on irrelevant matters about the other person and getting distracted, such as a vocal accent, dress, or having prejudiced thinking.
- Looking around at other things rather than giving other person undivided attention.
(Subtract and add to be a great listener.)
Then consider the things that are elements of active listening and ADD them.
Here’s 6 things to ADD ON:
- Think about your purpose for listening. Is it to learn something? Or maybe it’s to just be friendly and act like a friend? Whatever the purpose, keep it in mind, since this will help you listen with focus.
- Pay attention to the other person’s nonverbal communication as well as verbal. This is fully engaged listening and will help put you in the other person’s shoes. When you understand where the other person is coming from, you’ll feel more empathy. Also, occasionally nonverbal and verbal communication may be inconsistent, and this can tell you something that’s not verbally said.
- Be comfortable with your own nonverbal communication so you don’t worry about how you come across. Body language experts recommend that you have open body language, with arms uncrossed, and hands visible, not hiding in pockets. When you carry yourself confidently, you won’t be worried much if at all with how you come across.
- Act as if you’re listening to improve listening. For instance, use good eye contact and lean slightly forward, since this is what you’d do if you were attentive.
- Stay active in conversation. James J. Crist, Ph.D, author of The Survival Guide For Making And Being Friends, suggests staying active to avoid being distracted. He says, “Sometimes just nodding your head and saying ‘Uh-huh’ is enough. But you can take it a step further by saying something enthusiastic.” Stay engaged by interjecting words such as “Awesome!”, “Cool!”, “Tell me more”,”Sounds like fun”, etc.
- If you do start getting self-conscious during conversation, meaning you start thinking about yourself and how you’re coming across, David Morin of SocialPro recommends that you ask yourself questions (in your head) regarding what the other person is talking about. He says, “Let’s say someone mentions volunteering at a dog shelter. When you focus on what someone’s talking about, you’ll notice that you’ll soon be able to come up with a lot of questions.
What’s it like at the shelter?
Does she walk dogs as a volunteer?
How does she feel about working without pay?
Would she recommend working at a shelter?
BONUS TIP: Besides the 12 things already mentioned, here’s one more for a Baker’s dozen. The one additional thing is meditation. That is, meditating sharpens listening.
In A Nutshell
It takes just as much practice to listen well as to speak well. Though it may not appear that way, listening is just as active a process as speaking (similar to how reading is just as active as writing but in a different way).
The more your mind is engaged and without extraneous thoughts or distractions while listening, the more you’ll understand, remember, and relate well with others.
Best of all, if you listen wholeheartedly, you’ll truly get into the conversation and make a connection.