Over the years I have come to the conclusion that every person—no matter their profession or age—can benefit from being a better listener. Here are five tips that can help you listen effectively:
Open Up Your Body Language
Your body language reveals your interest or disinterest in a story. When actively listening to someone, lean slightly forward and make eye contact. A simple smile and the occasional nod will show that you're interested and engaged.
In situations where you feel slightly uncomfortable--such as a networking event--you may have a tendency to cross your arms, put your hands in your pockets or exhibit other forms of nervous behavior. These small physical barriers can discourage others from approaching you.
If you're in a busy area, focus more on the person you're with and less on what's going on around you. Similarly, while on the phone, turn your back to your computer and give the person you're talking to your full attention. When you're distracted by technology, it makes others feel unimportant.
Resist The Urge To Interrupt
It can be tempting to finish someone's sentence to show you comprehend their message, but it can come off as rude. Listening builds trust. If you interrupt someone--even with good intentions--it denies the speaker the opportunity to fully express his or her feelings or opinions. To ensure that you won't interrupt, always pause for a few seconds before responding.
The two most powerful words in a conversation are, "Tell me." People will perk up when you ask them pertinent questions and listen attentively to their responses. If you take an active interest in the lives of others, they will return the favor.
Open-ended questions provide the best opportunity for people to elaborate on a given topic and will keep the conversation flowing smoothly. If you don't understand the point someone is trying to make, ask for clarification or specific examples.
Practice Empathetic Listening
Listen not only with your ears, but with your eyes and your heart. You don't have to necessarily agree with the speaker, but imagine how he or she feels. Put yourself in another person's shoes to fully understand their point of view.
Unfortunately, most people don't listen to comprehend; they listen to reply. Don't focus on what you're going to say next. It's distracting and hinders the conversation. Focus on the speaker's story. Ask yourself, "How would I feel if this happened to me?" And once you've fully absorbed what the person has said, respond thoughtfully.