When was the last time you really listened to someone, or someone really listened to you?

Sadly, it’s becoming a rare event. We are so distracted, we have busy lives and we multitask, whether we think we’re good at it or not. Ironically, the phone, the very device invented for talking and listening has been instrumental in deteriorating our ability to do it. The second I get bored I whip out my phone and scroll through Facebook, play Candy Crush, listen to an audio book, or Google something.

Why listening matters?

Listening to people makes them feel special.

I have just read a fantastic book called “You’re not listening”. One of the most surprising and also obvious things she says is that we become more interesting when people are listening us. If you are telling a story and you can see that the person you are talking to isn’t really listening you start to condense what you are saying, you give less detail, less colour, you become less engaging. On the other hand, if you are being listened to intently you start to add in more detail, your story gets more imaginative and even more interesting. So, the more we are listened to the more interesting we become.

Research shows that at a party, people will remember you as being more interesting not if you tell them lots of stuff about yourself, but if you ask them questions and listen to them as they talk about themselves.

If you don’t listen to your kids when they are telling you something daft when they are little why would you expect them to want to talk to you when they are older and having problems?

Coaching is, at its core, the skill of listening to both what is and isn’t being said. And it’s not unusual for people to experience that the only time they feel truly listened to is when they are paying the other person to do it.

All the time we are speaking we are not learning. Imagine what we could learn if we listened more and talked less.

How can you improve your skills?

Here are 7 strategies to becoming a better listener. They look really easy on paper, but they are deceptively challenging to do.

  • Be interested in what they are saying.

I believe this is the single most important skill. If you are interested then you will pay full attention, lean in, and ignore distractions. If you are not interested then everything else becomes more interesting, your phone, what’s going on outside, what you’re having for tea.

Remember, people will sound more interesting if they are being listened to, so if you decide to be more interested, they will be more interesting.

  • Stop multitasking listening 

If you are reading a text, watching tv or playing a game on your phone, chances are you’re not really listening.  

  • Let the other person finish speaking before deciding what you want to say. 

If you’re busy deciding what you want to say you stop listening to the other person. This then leads to asking questions that have already been answered and lots of misunderstandings.

  • Don’t change the subject

We hear something that triggers a memory or a story that we want to share and before we know it, we have taken over and changed the subject.

  • Show you’re listening

Make eye contact, smile, nod, make uh huh sounds. Now this is all entirely possible to fake. There is no point nodding and umming and aahing along if you’re actually thinking about something else.  

  • Listen for the feelings

Empathetic listening is specifically listening for the emotion behind the words. For example, recognising that someone is rarely fine when they say they are ‘fine’. It’s really paying attention to their body language and tone of voice, not just the words being said.

  • Just listen

 It’s easy to jump in and offer advice and suggestions when we weren’t asked for them. It’s so tempting to want to solve the problem for the other person when all they want is to be heard and understood.

Some people find it easier to talk to someone when they are not looking directly at you, so listening while doing the washing up or walking side by side can make it easier for the person to open up.

How will you improve your listening skills?

Maybe you could simply decide to practise. Try it today. When your friend calls or when one of your kids wants to tell you something, put down your device, look at them, give them your attention and really hear what they are telling you.

Listening is a choice, choose to listen, choose to make them feel that special.

As I coach, I really listen, and reflect back what I hear. Often you know the best solution already, you just need time to explore it and say it out loud. Sometimes you will be surprised at the things you find yourself saying when you are being truly listened to.

And I would definitely recommend the book, ‘You’re not listening’ by Kate Murphy.