We all know how discouraging it can be having to talk to someone who isn’t listening to us, it can make us feel disrespected and frustrated. Being an active listener may be the most important element of having a good conversation, as not listening can lead to interrupting and other mistakes later on. So what are good listening skills?
Try to listen out of curiosity rather than generosity. Oftentimes, we listen to someone else ‘to be polite’. This may not be intentional, but it can damage the quality of the conversation. Put your own agenda on the side, and truly believe you might learn something new from the other person. This mindset will help you open your ears and truly listen. If you need to consciously remind yourself to do it first that’s okay.
Body language is important, too - make eye contact with the speaker, lean your body towards them, and don’t cross your arms. Of course, your behavior should be adjusted to the weight of the topic - if your friend is telling you about a funny cat video, there’s no need for the same level of engagement as when they are telling you about a painful childhood memory. The idea is to appear interested, and not like a caricature of an overly intent therapist.
It’s tempting to interrupt someone when you’re eager to get your point across, but it is a habit you should avoid. Being too fixated on your response can make you stop listening to someone before they are finished talking. Truly taking in what the other person said, and taking a few seconds to process wild make you a much better conversation partner. That, too, might take a bit of conscious drilling at first, but will eventually become second nature.
3. Asking personal questions too soon
Part of getting to know someone is learning details about them, but you should always respect their boundaries about what they feel comfortable sharing. "People are usually happy to talk about themselves and will be responsive to those who are interested in them," says communication expert Constance Dunn. "However, don’t let your inquiries turn into a grilling, particularly if your tablemates are recent strangers to you."
As a general rule, personal questions are those related to a person’s age, income, employment, and romantic life. If the other person brings up any of these topics, that’s OK, but you should always wait until they bring it up and signal that they are happy to talk about it.
You might think of yourself a someone who can effectively divide their attention between listening to your friend telling a story, and scrolling through your e-mails. Studies, however, show different findings. "The human brain can't focus on more than one task, and the research is quite clear on our attempts to multitask," Celeste Headlee, author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter, told Bustle.
If you want to have a proper conversation, make it the sole task that you’re focusing on. Not to mention, it will make the person you’re talking to feel significantly more comfortable.
5. Giving unsolicited advice
Even if you feel like you have the best intentions, repeatedly inserting your opinions and ideas when you haven’t directly been asked to can come off as disrespectful and presumptive. Unsolicited advice often feels critical rather than helpful, and they can even prevent a person from figuring out what’s right for them, to solve their own problems.
Of course, giving advice is perfectly fine when someone directly asks you for your opinion. However, oftentimes when loved ones or co-workers share problems, they don’t necessarily seek solutions but rather want to express how they feel and receive emotional support.
6. Being funny at the expense of others
Bullying is believed to be reserved for the schoolyard, but it’s more common in adult circles than you’d think. Aggression can be expressed in subtle ways during the conversation, and you might not even be aware of asserting it.
There is room for friendly banter sometimes, but be cautious of not crossing the line, and preying on what others are saying to look funny. If you need to put someone down for it, this moment of glory is probably not worth it.
7. Trying to force a dynamic
Speaking of being funny, it’s important to not keep pushing for a certain dynamic in the conversation, for example, funny and teasing or deep and serious, if you notice the other person isn’t receptive. It’s okay to try and see if you can take the conversation in a different direction or get a new dynamic going, but don’t get caught up in it to the point you’re not attentive to your partner. If it doesn’t go anywhere, drop it.
8. Pretending to know something you don’t
Sharing a mutual interest or experience is a good way to connect but if that interest isn’t real, don’t try to fake it, or pretend you’re enthusiastic or knowledgeable about something when it isn’t the truth. “We often give our opinions on complicated topics like medical issues and pet care and childcare, without really knowing what we're talking about. If you don't know, then just say you don't know," said Headlee.
Admitting it would make you look volumes better than being exposed through saying something incorrect. If you find yourself discussing something outside of your interest, remain authentic and try to shift the focus of the conversation to a true shared interest.
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