Listening. We're not very good at it. In fact, most of the time, we're distracted. We're thinking about what we want to say next. Or we're thinking about something entirely different.
Research indicates that we can speak at a rate of 125-175 words per minute but we actually have the capacity to hear over 450 words per minute. This is why our mind often wanders. We are filling in this gap with our own thoughts.
Moreover, our attention span as adults is incredibly short. It is said that it last 22 seconds (less or more depending upon our level of interest). So, no wonder we have a listening problem and a listening deficit in our society. If we want to improve our relationships and make positive social change, we desperately need to become better listeners.
Here are five secrets of effective listeners.
1. They don't pretend they're listening. Have you ever heard of the following tips to help you be a better listener? Make eye contact. Nod and smile to show you're listening. Make sure to say: "uh-huh" every few sentences. Forget those. If you are really invested in what someone is saying you'll do those things naturally. If you're not invested and you don't want to listen, then disengage from the conversation. The worst thing you can do is to pretend to listen when you are disengaged, distracted, or disconnected. It's much more respectful to bow out of the conversation and find a time to connect with someone at another point where you can fully focus on them and nothing else.
2. They are fully present and open. Invest in actively listening and being fully present. Granted, your mind will still wander off at times, but acknowledge this and refocus back on the person in front of you. Give them your undivided attention. This deals with single-tasking. And listen with an open heart and open mind. Forget judgments. If you listen with love, you'll be hard pressed to judge someone at the same time - for those two are opposites. Actively, consciously, and empathetically listen to someone else.
3. They listen more than they speak. Even the word conversation assumes a back and forth between listening and speaking. We assume the two would take turns and would perhaps even be equal partners. To have a truly meaningful conversation, I encourage you to focus on the other person and take the focus off of yourself. Aim to just focus on listening while in a conversation.
4. They listen to learn. A conversation is an opportunity to learn from someone else. If you see it as an opportunity to dominate the conversation and just share your own thoughts and opinions, you may come off as pompous and even narcissistic. Forget your own ideas, thoughts, and contributions, for you already know those things already. What do you learn when you're the only one talking? Instead, truly invest in that other person. Make it your mission to learn something and to simply genuinely be there for someone else. Make it a self-less act. Make it a joy for someone to want to share with you. The goal should be to listen in order to understand the other person.
5. They are curious and ask questions. Find out more! Ask questions that dig deeper. Too often people don't ask enough questions. Pay attention to this the next time you're having a conversation. Notice the amount and kinds of questions you ask. Aim to ask open-ended questions to allow for a longer and more interesting response. You might be surprised at what you discover.
If only more people were fully present, truly listened, were curious to learn more, and with the intent to learn, imagine how much happier and more understood everyone would feel. Imagine the impact on friendships, relationships, and even broken partnerships around the world.