How to be a better listener – six tips from an expert

We’d all like to think we’re great listeners.

Then midway through a conversation we find our attention drifting. Or someone tells us that we’re not really hearing what they’re saying. Or we come away from a chat and realise we have no clue what the other person was on about.

It’s natural, don’t worry. No one can be a perfect listener all the time, and it’s important to not beat yourself up for a slip-up.

What’s key, though, is trying to be better. Recognise where you’re going wrong and try to fix those blips.

Doing so, and improving your listening skills as a result, doesn’t just benefit you – in relationships, at work, when making friends – but other people, too.

You’ll know how good it feels when you feel like you’re really being listened to. You can do that for someone else.

‘Much of our success in the workplace (and in life) rests on our ability to have brilliant conversations,’ explains Janie Van Hool, a leadership communication expert, a volunteer with Samaritans, and the author of The Listening Shift.

‘The trouble is, most of us focus on what we want to say, and not so much on listening well to others.’

Ahead, Jamie shares her steps to becoming a better listener.

Avoid the solution trap

You might have heard this one before: sometimes people don’t want solutions, they just want to be listened to.

It’s tempting to dive right in and start giving advice – but try to recognise when this isn’t the right approach.

‘We love to give advice, share our view, offer the answer when someone else is speaking,’ Janie tells Metro.co.uk. ‘But as soon as we’ve decided the obvious solution for the other person, we become focused on getting our own ideas across. We stop listening.’

Don’t make it about you

Another trap many of us fall into is trying to ‘switch’ a conversation back to ourselves – as this, says Janie, is a topic we find far more interesting.

She explains: ‘Are you ever inspired to leap in when someone is speaking and share an identical experience – or a better one? If you find yourself interrupting to share your own thoughts, you’ve already stopped listening.’

Clear distractions

If you’re super busy and having a full-on day, it’s hard to really tune into what someone else is saying – because your internal monologue will be chatting away about all the things you need to do.

If you know someone needs to talk, schedule it in for a time when you’ve cleared up any essential tasks and won’t be feeling like you need to rush the conversation so you can get back to what you were doing.

Be conscious of all the things that could grab your attention, and try to reduce them as much as possible. Trust us, people can tell when you’re not really focused on what they’re saying.

‘Notice what’s going on in your own mind and body and find a way to clear or calm any distractions,’ suggests Janie. ‘Write down anything that needs tackling and park it for later. Make yourself physically comfortable and close down any technology that may cause you to become side-tracked.’

Be curious

Janie says: ‘Get curious – this is the big one. Instead of preparing to offer a solution, confirm an assumption or share an experience, try asking another question.

‘Challenge yourself to find out something new or surprising, or to understand a different point of view.’

Get comfortable with silence

You don’t need to be the first person to fill every second of quiet. Sometimes, you can just let it sit.

‘As much as you may be tempted to offer a view, wait,’ suggests Janie. ‘See what emerges from a bit of space.’

Take notice of the speech breakdown

This is a good activity to try after a conversation, so you can see how much of a good listener you’re really being.

‘When you leave a conversation, reflect on who did most of the talking and, if it’s you, take action to manage that better next time,’ says Janie. ‘Seek balance between you and your conversation partner so neither of you is doing significantly more talking than the other.’

The Listening Shift: Transform Your Organisation By Listening To Your People And Helping Your People Listen To You is out now.

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