Listening is one of the most important skills you can have, and yet so many of us don't listen properly as we should. Listening is more than just sitting silently while someone else talks. It's actively participating in the conversation by encouraging the other speaker and fully absorbing what they are saying.
Are you a good listener? Many people could improve their ability to listen. Here are some ways to become a better listener.
The first step in listening is making sure you actually hear (fully) what your friend is saying, and you can't do that when you're talking at the same time they are. Cutting someone off verbally is often done in excitement, or to show that you can relate in a conversation. In other words, you're not trying to interrupt.
Still, watch for statements like this:
While you might think these interjections help move the conversation along, they're probably making your friend feel as if they need to continually talk over you to be heard. What's more, if you're talking to an introvert, they'll need a moment to pause and think before continuing what they were going to say, and as a result you probably think they're done and will continue talking.
A better option to let your friend know you're interested in what they say is just to nod along from time to time. Be careful, though, as sometimes people do this and close their eyes or look away at the same time. You could miss some of their nonverbal clues when you do this.
Another hazard is that sometimes people nod along but then start thinking about something related that they could say. When you nod, make it quick and try to push away your thoughts until you fully absorb what your friend is saying.
It's important to look directly at your friend, but don't stare so much you miss the other nonverbal clues your friend is giving off. Look with a relaxed eye, where you encourage them and focus on their eyes to let them know you're paying attention, but take in their body language as well.
For instance, it's important to note when your friend:
These clues can help you determine whether your friend is hesitating about telling you something, being sarcastic, or just kidding. What's more, you'll be able to get a better sense of what's going on in their lives when you look directly at them and let them talk.
If you're easily distracted by background noises (laughter, glasses clinking, children crying), you might need to work extra hard to focus only on your friend. If necessary, ask your friend to repeat themselves. It's okay to tell them that you're trying to hear them out but the background noises are getting in the way. If you can't focus, try moving to another area.
Tuning out noises does take some practice. If you're used to eavesdropping on people's conversations then it will be that much more difficult to tune it out when you're trying to listen.
Too often, people wait until their friend finishes talking and then jumps right in with their thoughts. But a better method is to quickly sum up what your friend just said before you continue. This helps you understand the message that they really meant to get across, and gives them the validation that they've been heard.
After your friend finishes speaking, try saying:
Give a quick summary of what you heard and then continue with what you want to say. If there isn't really anything to add, you could still let your friend know that they were heard, by saying something like:
When you practice listening in an active and supportive way, your friends will notice. It's okay to hang back and be a sounding board for someone else, without worrying that you won't get to tell your own stories or concerns. You will. But if you can show someone that you're there for them in this way, they'll be more apt to listen closely to what you say.