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How to be a better listener

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Listen up. While reading and writing are skills that we receive formal training in, listening is an ability that’s left largely untamed. The result: many of us aren’t that flash at it.

Yet devoting time to becoming a better listener can reap rewards at home and at work.

“When people feel as though they have been heard, they trust you more... Listening is a skill that can make you a better colleague and a more effective leader,” writes Art Markman, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas in the USA, in an article for Fast Company.

Grow your capacity to listen with these 5 tactics:

 1. Care about what’s being said

Good listening begins with caring about what it is others have to say, believes Professor of Management at the University of Kentucky Christine Provost via the Harvard Business Review (HBR). 

Listen with empathy. This involves a commitment to a three-pronged process: taking in the verbal and non-verbal cues sent out by the speaker; making sense of what’s being said; and acknowledging what’s being said.

2.  Stop planning what you’ll say next

If you’re busy plotting your response while someone else is talking, your brain has its front gate closed to incoming messages.

Instead of planning your contribution to the conversation, focus energy on listening. One way to do this is by summarising what you’ve heard before you reply.

This strategy works great when you’re at work, advises Markman. 

“Get in the habit of repeating back at least some of what colleagues have said to you when you are dealing with important issues. Give that summary before you launch into your own solutions.”

 3. Identify what makes your mind wander

Pay attention when your mind wanders to figure out what’s stopping you from listening,” advises the Harvard Business Review (HBR).

Could it be that you’re planning your response, or that your inner critic has piped up and you’ve tuned into that voice instead? 

“When you notice something has blocked you from listening, simply make a note of it — don’t belabour it, or you’re just not-listening for even longer! — and shift your attention back to what the other person is saying,” says the HBR.

4. Create pockets of mental time-out

It’s hard to make room to take in more information when your mind’s as busy as Heathrow Airport. 

Let your mind recharge each day by carving out dedicated windows in which you’re not plugged into your laptop, tablet, phone or the TV. During these times let your mind breathe. Let it rest in the present.

 5. Cut out distractions

Physically clear space to listen. In a bid to become a better listener, Life Hacker writer Seth Simonds says that when having conversations at work, he started ‘clearing space’ by removing everything from his workspace that wasn’t related to the conversation at hand.

Simonds reports: “As the notion of space trickled into other parts of my life, I found myself silencing my phone during meals. I started taking notes during presentations instead of Tweeting. And I gave pause after others spoke before replying. I soon discovered that I wasn’t just getting more out of conversations; I was finding more value in time spent alone!”

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