As a person who cares about how you function in social settings, you may be aware that being able to listen to others is a key component of emotional intelligence. It’s also a component that can be actively nurtured, but it’s not automatic. Like many emotional skills, listening well takes practice.
Here are a few tips on learning to listen well.
1. Focus: While it seems obvious that listening requires focus, lots of people don’t focus on what the other person is saying at all, either because they’re already thinking about what they want to say, because they’re judging what the other person is saying, or because they’re thinking about something entirely different. Try actually looking at the person speaking and being curious about what they have to say.
2. Quiet yourself: You don’t always have to speak. In group situations, especially, it can be very helpful to just sit and listen to what everyone else is saying before you express yourself.
3. Let the speaker finish: Truly. Just let the person finish their thought — or at least their sentence — before plunging in. I can’t tell you how many times people try to finish my sentences for me and get it wrong. Generally a sentence only takes –what? — five seconds to utter. Surely we all have time for that.
4. Listen for a main idea: Trying to identify the speaker’s theme — even in a casual conversation — can keep your mind engaged and your response on point. The more you practice this, by the way, the more skilled you’ll get at hearing some of what’s unspoken…a touch of sadness, perhaps, or a slight burn of bitterness.
5. Watch body language: Yeah, yeah, yeah — we all know most of what is communicated is communicated non-verbally. But how often do you pause to really consider what another person’s body language is saying? Take a moment or two when you’re listening to people to check in on the tilt of their head, the form of their mouth, the position of their arms and shoulders. It can tell you a lot about what the speaker is really feeling.
Next Up: How to evaluate your own listening skills.