Listening is increasingly becoming a lost art, partly because we are communicating so much more electronically now than ever before. We take listening for granted as a conversation skill.

Dale Carnegie, the best-selling author of How to Win Friends and Influence People was right — humans are generally interested in themselves. We all want to be liked. “People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves — morning, noon, and after dinner.”

If you’re like most people, your own thoughts and experiences maybe your favourite topic of conversation. Many of us place an unusually high value on the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. According to research, talking about ourselves can trigger the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food, money or sex. “Self-disclosure is extra rewarding,” says Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir, who conducted the experiments with Harvard colleague Jason Mitchell. “People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves,” Ms Tamir said.

We love it if other people listen to us. The more you genuinely listen to others when they are feeling low, express pain, or concern about their frustrations and concerns, the more they are likely to draw closer to you.

“If a person trusts you enough to talk about their distress, trying to cheer them up is like shutting them up — you are dismissing and trivialising their feelings,” says Pam who provides professional listening sessions for people at The Listening Place, which provides face-to-face support for people with chronic suicidal feelings.

“Giving advice is not listening, and often it’s not helpful,” Pam adds. “It shuts people down. If you feel a responsibility to fix your friend’s problems, relinquish it.”

People communicate to connect. If you are interested in strengthening your relationships, rather than the joy of monologuing, be more interested in others. Most people skip the listening and talk more.

In Dale Carnegie’s words, “be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves.”When people feel good as they talk to you, they’ll associate those good feelings with you. That’s a winning formula for making friends and influencing people.

Make good listening second nature

Listening, done well, is an act of empathy. It’s vital to healthy relationships. Whether you want to strengthen your relationships, resolve a conflict, or offering support to a person in crisis, good listening skills can make a lot of difference. Learn how to be a truly supportive listener, and you may find yourself surrounded by others who are able to do the same for you.

“Some studies show that the more you self-disclose to someone, the more you like them, the more they like you. It may have something to do with forming social bonds, ” says Ms Tamir. Good listening skills can help you become a better sibling, spouse, father, mother, colleague, friend or even win more friends and influence others.

One of the most important things in a good conversation is silence. Don’t be afraid of silence; learn to hold it. It may feel uncomfortable to you, but it won’t to the person who needs to express how they feel — they may be working through painful feelings, so don’t rush them. People will start opening up if you don’t interrupt. It takes courage to be a good listener.

People who are good at winning friends listen intelligently — they look out for the meaning behind what the other person is saying words. They ask open-ended questions like ‘what was that like for you?’ to open up the conversation further. And they also use their body language to add energy to any conversation — even if you are listening intently, you have to show people you are listening to them.

Winning and keeping relationships is about being there for other people. People are attracted to those who genuinely or sincerely care about them. “A show of interest, as with every other principle of human relations, must be sincere. It must pay off not only for the person showing the interest but for the person receiving the attention. It is a two-way street; both parties benefit,” says Carnegie. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you, ” he adds.

Relationships require work — practice the art of listening at every given moment. Make the most of it and you will make and keep friends for life. The quality of your connections, your relationships, and your reputations all hinge on how well you can listen and follow up.

It’s worth bearing in mind that listening is a skill, and it takes time to learn. Active listening won’t necessarily feel natural at first, and it will require a lot of practice before it becomes a habit. However, if you stick with it, you’ll find it does get easier. To create meaningful and better connections, start over with a new goal — to actively listen without judgement.

Originally published on Medium.

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