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Jay Abbasi

Jay Abbasi

Mindfulness Coach and Consultant

How to Become a Better Listener in 7 Simple Steps

You’re in the midst of a conversation with someone you deeply care about and you’re telling them a personal story about your childhood.

You don’t talk about this very often since it’s a sensitive topic that leads to heavy emotions arising within you.

Your head is down as you’re describing the story in great detail.

Your voice is breaking as you hold back tears when expressing how these experiences have impacted your life as an adult.

You realize that you may have shared too much.

You lift your head to look into the eyes of the person listening.

Eyebrows raised.

Eyes wide.

Mouth open.

Head tilted.

You remain silent as you anticipate their response, hoping for some comfort and support.

They seem out of alignment with what you just shared.

In what appears to be a hurried and uncomfortable response, you hear…

“I get it. That sounds hard.”

Your expression suddenly changes from vulnerability and openness to anger and disappointment as you realize they weren’t listening.

You’re hurt.

You feel alone.

Unheard.

Unappreciated.

You’re wondering why you trusted this person and shared such a personal story.

Now you’re even questioning the relationship entirely.

Have you experienced anything like this before?

It feels awful when you’re sharing something personal about yourself and the other person isn’t listening.

While we can easily identify with the experience of not being listened to, let’s look at this from the other perspective.

What’s it like to be on the other side of this situation?

You’re in the midst of a conversation with someone you deeply care about and suddenly you recognize…

You have no idea what they just said.

You’ve been under a lot of pressure at work and you got distracted thinking about a presentation you need to prepare for.

Since your mind was elsewhere you weren’t listening, and now you’re trying to piece together what was being shared.

What’s worse, is you can sense the heavy emotions as their head is down and their voice is breaking.

They stop speaking.

They look up at you with an expression of anticipation.

Raised eyebrows.

Wide eyes.

Open mouth.

Tilted head.

You discern from their silence that you’re expected to say something.

Since you have no context about what was said you attempt to validate whatever it is they just shared with you.

Fidgeting and with a great deal of discomfort, you blurt out…

“I get it. That sounds hard.”

Their expression suddenly changes from vulnerability and openness to anger and disappointment as they realize you weren’t listening.

While you didn’t intend for them to feel this way, it’s clear that being distracted and not listening led to this outcome.

They’re hurt.

You empathize with what it must feel like.

To feel alone.

Unheard.

Unappreciated.

You didn’t mean to do this.

It was an accident.

You unintentionally wandered off at the worst possible time. It pains you that you weren’t listening at a crucial time to be there for someone you deeply care about.

You feel terrible as you can sense that this inadvertent lapse of concentration may have seriously wounded the relationship.

Have you experienced anything like THIS before?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we can point to times where we were on both sides of this conversation.

While we can’t control if another person is attentive to what we’re saying, we can improve our ability to actively listen to others.

Active listening helps to improve our personal relationships as well as our effectiveness in the workplace.

We all know the importance of listening, but it’s astonishing to see the difference in our perceived ability to listen and how good of listeners we actually are.

Studies show that while employees believe they are great communicators, the average person listens at approximately a 25% efficiency.

Here are 7 simple and practical steps to become a better listener at home or at work (along with some Pro Tips).

Step 1: Adopt a Listener’s Mindset.

At the start of your day or before engaging in a conversation, embrace an attitude of curiosity and interest in other people.

Seek to learn from others.

Pursue a deeper understanding of what they have to share.

Approach each conversation with genuine excitement in getting to know who they are, what they stand for, and what matters to them.

This requires a shift away from ego-filled discussions that center around you, to ego-less discussions that place the other person at the center of the universe.

Enter conversations with an “empty glass”, meaning you haven’t decided beforehand exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it.

You may have an intention as to what you’d like to discuss, but you aren’t attached to it progressing a certain way.

Pro Tip: Use the “Spotlight Technique”. 

At the beginning of the conversation, visualize a spotlight that first shines on you, and slowly shifts to shining on the other person. Throughout the conversation, they remain in the spotlight, meaning you are making the conversation about them, not you.

Step 2: Establish a Listener’s Environment.

Do your best to create an environment that doesn’t pull your attention away from the person you’re speaking with.

If the environment you’re in is too loud, the sun is in your eyes, or there are a lot of distracting stimuli in the background, move to a different spot.

One of the worst things you can do is check your phone since that shows the other person they’re not that important to you.

Keep your phone on silent.

Keep it in your pocket.

Never put your phone on the table, even if they do, since it may tempt you with a notification.

Pro Tip: Be honest if you get distracted. 

If you do get distracted unintentionally by your phone or surrounding stimuli, be honest about it! We’re all human and our attention can be pulled away very easily. You’re better off admitting to the other person that this happened rather than pretending you didn’t get distracted.

Step 3: “Check-In” With Your Attention Persistently.

We’re taught that great listening requires us to keep all of our attention on the other person.

The challenge with that is, your mind has a natural tendency to wander if not kept in check!

Therefore, during the conversation shift your attention every now and then from the other person to attention itself.

Pay attention to YOUR attention.

Notice when your mind is…

  • Planning on what you will say next
  • Wandering away from the conversation at hand
  • Eager to jump in and interrupt

“Checking in” with yourself during a conversation helps you to stay fully present with the person you’re speaking with and avoid distracting thoughts.

This isn’t that different from meditation when we bring our attention back to our breathing.

Do a similar exercise during an exchange with another person.

Pro Tip: Use anchors. 

Every now and then during conversation use anchors to bring you back to the present moment, especially when your mind is very distracted. An anchor could be the sensation of your toes, your breath, or the warmth of your palms. As you’re listening, do a quick 1-second check-in by feeling your toes on the ground, then go back to listening fully.

Step 4: “Check-In” With Your Physical Body Persistently.

Here’s a simple list of “do’s” and “don’ts” that relate to our facial expression and body language. I encourage practicing this with friends and family so it becomes second nature during any conversation.

In the early stages of trying these techniques, become aware of your facial expressions and body language, then make minor adjustments to present yourself as more attentive and focused.

DO maintain eye contact, but DON’T be weird about it.

On a scale of 1-10, 1 meaning no eye contact, and 10 meaning glaring at the person’s eyes non-stop in a creepy way, be at a 7 or 8.

DO nod on occasion, but DON’T be a bobblehead.

If what you heard was profound, interesting, or a clear climax to the story, nod once or twice to show enthusiasm for what was shared. Don’t overdo it and nod excessively at everything that’s being said. The bobblehead is a clear sign that one is eager for the other person to stop talking so they can jabber away.

DO maintain relative stillness, and DON’T fidget.

Fidgeting is an indicator that you’re uncomfortable and often gets perceived as being anxious for your turn to speak. When listening, be still and focused while limiting body movements. Not only does this show the other person you are listening attentively, but it also exudes confidence.

DO align emotionally, and DON’T overcompensate.

Mirror the other person’s facial expressions without overdoing it.

If the person has a lively and happy tone, smile and have your eyebrows raised to mirror how they’re feeling.

If they’re taking a serious and somber tone, adjust your facial expressions to reflect their state by squinting your eyes and puckering your lips.

If they’re expressing sadness, widen your eyes and loosen the edges of your mouth to embody what they’re experiencing.

Pro Tip: Tilt your head.

The science behind this is fascinating as we are genetically wired to trust people who tilt their heads when interacting. Even without the science, we can go to our experience to test this out. Imagine a puppy that is curious and interested in something. What does it do with its head? I highly encourage you to try this next time you speak with someone. Notice how it feels when you tilt your head when listening to someone else, and how it feels when someone else tilts their head when listening to you.

Step 5: Pause Before You Speak.

Now that the person you’re conversing with has finished speaking and it’s your turn to talk, you may feel the impulse to jump right in and say something.

I invite you to pause.

Take a moment to collect your thoughts and be intentional with your words.

The other person will appreciate your thoughtfulness and will know how deeply you were listening to them.

Pro Tip: Release eye contact then zone back in when you begin speaking.

You held eye contact while they were speaking. They’re done speaking. You pause. If at this point you look away for a moment, you’re accessing different areas of the brain to process what was said to you. Not only were you truly listening and now responding in ways that show you are considerate of what they said, but the other person feels heard and understood.

Step 6: Repeat What You Heard In Your Own Words.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

David Augsburger

How do you express to someone that they have been heard? 

You repeat back your understanding of what they just said.

You can acknowledge the other person by starting with…

“I hear you. So what you’re saying is…”

“If I’m hearing you right…”

“So you’re feeling…”

Pro Tip: Confirm your understanding.

After you repeat back what you understood, ask them if your understanding is accurate. This shows that you aren’t assuming anything and you’re seeking clarity as to how they think and feel.

Step 7: Ask Clarifying Questions.

Seek further understanding by going deeper and asking open-ended questions.

Oftentimes what someone shares initially is surface level and therefore you aren’t able to fully understand what they’re attempting to communicate.

Be a great listener by showing your genuine curiosity and asking them to elaborate further.

The person will gladly continue sharing and appreciate your desire to seek further clarity.

Pro Tip: Use “Laser Questions”.

A simple and effective technique to go deeper in the conversation is to use laser questions, such as…

“What else?”

“Tell me more.”

“How do you mean?”

“Please, continue.”

These short questions or statements invite the other person to go deeper into their thinking so you can better understand and they can be fully heard.

Be here.

Be now.

Be present.

With love,

Jay

P.S. To gain a deeper understanding of these techniques and to harness the power of mindful listening, please contact us to see if you’d be a good fit for our coaching programs.

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