How to Be a Good Listener: Developing Positive Communication Skills
I’m a talker. Sometimes, I talk too much. But over the course of many years and many mishaps, I have finally learned how to be a good listener. I still talk too much, and sometimes I still mess up (a we all do). But I try to truly listen when I’m having a conversation, and to consider someone’s points before responding. This is important in every day conversation, but it’s even more important when conflict is involved.
Many years ago, I learned about active listening skills, and I even did a presentation about positive communication when I was in the Navy. And yet, when someone used these skills with me, it still felt somewhat awkward. Awkward or not, however, I felt heard and understood. So I thought I’d share some of what I learned. Here are 5 steps to become a better listener.
1. How to be a good listener: Be truly present and forget what you want to say
For those of us with ADHD, it can be frustrating to have to wait our turn to say something, because by the time our turn arrives, we’ll forget what it is we wanted to say. But it doesn’t matter. Embrace that forgetfulness to truly hear what the other person is saying. Sure, you may forget what you wanted to say, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. Being truly present and hearing someone else is actually more important than saying your piece when it comes to positive communication. And you will get a chance to say your piece eventually.
2. Body language matters
Body language matters when it comes to being a good listener. Remember to look into someone’s eyes if you can, and if you can’t, at least their nose. But don’t be creepy about it: switch between their eyes and their mouths as you listen. Don’t cross your arms, which can come across as being closed-off to communication. If you’re cold, excuse yourself and grab a sweater if you can, so that you can avoid crossing your arms. Nod once in a while to show you’re following.
3. Repeat what you are hearing back to the speaker
This is especially important in situations of conflict, but can work in other conversations as well. Repeat what the other person said to make sure you understood their point. You can say something like, “I’m hearing you say…” followed by “Is that right?” You don’t need to use these specific words; these are just examples that you can try. Regardless, say something back to the speaker bout their points, so you have all the clear information about what they meant, before you respond.
4. Really consider what others are saying and don’t try to convince them your way is the right way
Life is complicated, and the world is full of differing viewpoints. Often, conversations deteriorate because both people are trying to convince each other to change their point of view. These conversations often don’t go anywhere, and often end in an avoidable conflict. Know that you’re not going to change someone’s perspective in one conversation (or even many), and also, be open to their differing viewpoint. Allow them to have their say as you absorb what they’re trying to tell you, and consider their points before presenting your own. If you will be presenting a differing viewpoint, be sure to use non-threatening language.
5. Use “I” language whenever possible.
When we talk to people, the language we choose has tremendous impact. Some language can make us sound aggressive even when that’s not our intention. Using “I” language is a non-threatening, better way to communicate and to own your opinions and emotions. This is especially important when you are presenting a different viewpoint for a controversial or heated topic. You can use words like “I feel that…” or “I believe that…” When it comes to addressing behaviours you’re uncomfortable with, you can use this format: “I feel like… when you…”
Although to anyone not used to this way of communicating, these tips may sound odd or contrived, they really do work when you apply them on a consistent basis. Yes, some people may roll their eyes, but you’ll be able to truly hear what others are saying. And when you’re a good listener yourself, people tend to start listening better to you, too.