Want to improve your relationships? Follow this easy advice!
Have you ever blanked out while someone is talking to you, only to scramble for words when it comes time to respond? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. It’s easy to zone out, get distracted, or let our attention start to wander before the person we’re talking to has even finished their first sentence. It’s not a surprising struggle, since these days humans have an attention span that lasts about eight seconds. It’s a well known fact that most of us know quite a few people (ourselves included!) who could become better listeners.
Dr. Diana Raab is a psychologists and author. In her book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, she’s researched story-telling and learned quite a few things about becoming a skilled listener. If you, like me, struggle to listen well in conversations, these three tips from Dr. Raab can be a huge help in improving our friendships and relationships.
1. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Expert listeners will often repeat back the words they’ve heard from the people they’re having a conversation with. “In your own words, repeat what someone has told you. This is known as empathetic reflection,” Dr. Raab writes. This echo effect in conversation does several things to improve deep listening. First, it builds empathy for the other person in the conversation. When you repeat their words, you’re allowing yourself into their world for a few minutes. Repeating what someone has said also lets them know that you listened carefully to what they said and are present in the moment of the conversation. Echoing also helps you to stop yourself from jumping to conclusions. You’re allowing yourself extra time to process the information given to you as well as letting the other person in the conversation correct something if you heard them wrong.
As a bonus, when you listen and repeat what someone just said, you’re also encouraging them to listen well when you speak, too. “By listening carefully when someone speaks, we’re telling them that we care about what they’re saying,” Dr. Raab said. “It’s also important to remember that listening is contagious. When we listen to others, then chances are they will be more inclined to listen to us.”
2. Become fluent in body language
When you’re zoning out in a conversation, your facial expressions reflect your lack of interest. When you’re working on good listening skills, be conscious of your own body language. One of Dr. Raab’s tips for good listening body language? Eye contact. “Look into others’ eyes when they’re speaking,” she said. There are other ways you can improve your intentions listening skills through body language, too. Nod your head at intervals when someone is talking to show interest and involvement. Lean forward to the speaker, showing your interest and desire to listen attentively. Finally, hold your body in a more open position by unfolding your arms and turning your whole body towards the person who is talking. This position conveys a general openness to the conversation and the person speaking.
Don’t consider yourself fluent in body language? Don’t worry — deep listening can be a learned skill. “The good news is that we can learn to be better listeners,” Dr. Raab said, reassuringly. “However, listening takes practice. The more we do it, the better we get at it, and the more positive our interpersonal relationships will be.”
3. Listen to understand
“The importance of listening in interpersonal relationships cannot be overemphasized,” Dr. Raab said. “One study conducted by Faye Doell in 2003 showed that there are two different types of listening — listening to understand and listening to respond. Those who listen to understand have greater satisfaction in their interpersonal relationships than others. While people may think they might be listening to understand, what they’re really doing is waiting to respond.”
A 2010 study conducted by Charles G. Gross found there is a lag time between what we hear when someone is talking with us and what we understand. Depending on who you are and your listening skills, the lag time could be a few seconds, but it could take up to a minute to process all the information someone has given you in a conversation. When you listen to respond, you don’t allow yourself time to process what someone has said and respond with intentionality. Instead of just listening for a pause in the conversation so you can interject your opinions or thoughts on the subject, take a step back and work on understanding what someone has said. Wondering how to improve your “listen to understand” skills? If you use the conversation tool of repeating someone’s words back to them, you give yourself even more time understand where they’re coming from.