Creating a Respectful Atmosphere
Communication comes down to two things: being clear in our words and gestures, and actively listening to the people we’re communicating with. Being able to talk clearly and calmly during a conversation is important but being able to truly listen to a conversation is just as, if not more, important. When it comes to creating open and respectful dialogue, being able to talk to one another means that we all have to be active listeners when someone else speaks.
Don’t Just be Polite
Have you ever found yourself listening to someone politely, without any real interest in what they have to say? Perhaps you tune them out because the topic is boring, the person is irritating, or you just don’t agree with them, but you don’t want to seem rude. One of the first steps to being a better listener, however, is to enter a conversation with the intent of learning something. Even if you don’t agree with the other person, there’s usually something to be learned from any conversation. If you approach each interaction as an opportunity to enrich your life and broaden your understanding, your conversations will become far more interesting.
Ask the Right Questions
A good question is one that begs to clarify a point that you did not understand, asks for more information, or encourages the speaker to continue with their story. At the same time, a dead-end question, or one that only requires a yes or no answer, can stop the conversation immediately. That’s not to say that yes and no questions don’t have their place, but asking clarifying questions shows the listener not only that you have been paying attention, but that you are engaged, and that they are not boring you. Yes and no questions can be conversation killers, and if the person who is being asked those questions starts to feel that they are deliberately being shut down, they could take offense, whether it is meant or not.
Be Aware of Your Body Language
Actions speak louder than words, or at least as loud when you’re on the listening side of a conversation. If someone is telling a long story or giving a presentation, and the audience is fidgeting, tapping their feet, looking at anything other than the speaker, etc., it’s very obvious to the speaker that they do not have your attention. This may put the speaker on the defensive, effectively shutting them down from listening to you when it’s your turn to talk. After all, why should they listen to you when you didn’t give them the same courtesy?
You’ve Got to Listen
This would not be a very good article if all it did was give you the tricks on how to ‘appear’ like you are listening when in reality you are thinking about what you are going to eat directly after. When you listen, focus your mind on the meaning behind the words you are hearing. Don’t walk into a conversation ready with your response, no matter what the other party has to say. It’s supposed to be a conversation, not debate club after all. This applies when you are the one speaking as much as it does when you are the one doing the listening. If someone asks for more information because they don’t understand, be ready to try and explain it another way rather than immediately getting defensive. While there are people who will try and derail a conversation by constantly saying that they don’t understand something, give your listeners the benefit of the doubt the first time around.
The Power of Silence
Using brief moments of silence is a great way to instill importance in speech, but it can also keep you out of murky water by giving the speaker one last opening before going into a response. Not only does it give you a chance to organize your thoughts, it also gives the speaker a chance to process what they’ve just said and decide if there is anything additional to include.
It’s About Respect
In the end, being an active listener is about respect. When you take an active role in listening to other people, you show respect for them and for yourself, or at least your time. Being an active listener can also show those around you that you are open to ideas and willing to learn new things, which has the ability to open doors for you where you least expect it. You just have to be willing to listen.
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