Your reading to this point might make you feel like it is impossible to listen effectively. The good news is that we can develop our skills to be better listeners. One concept that is central to listening effectively is mindful listening. Mindful listening refers to the ability to get focused and provide your full attention to the speaker. Here are some skills for being a mindful listener:
- Stop: Stop what you are thinking about, and perhaps what you are doing. At a minimum you want to clear your mind of other thoughts (e.g., Did I turn off the coffee pot? When am I going to find time to study for my exam?) and give full attention to the speaker. There are times when you should stop doing stuff too. For example, if your best friend wants to talk with you about an incident that happened last week, it is probably best if you stop washing dishes and sit down to listen.
- Look: Next you want to look at the other person while they are speaking. Remember that communication involves both language and nonverbal behaviors, so looking at the other will provide you the greatest amount of information as you work to create shared meaning with the other. Additionally, in the United States looking at the other person is often a marker of listening (even though we know it’s not always the case!)
- Listen: Consider why you are listening to the other person, and what they might be hoping to receive when its your turn to speak. Are you listening to understand the other person (e.g., follow directions), to analyze or evaluate what they just said (e.g., give advice), or to sympathize (e.g., demonstrate care)? The reason you are listening will affect how your respond, so it is important to know why it is you’re doing it.
- Respond: Based on the reason you’ve been listening, you will provide a variety of different types of listening responses. For example, if you’ve been listening to sympathize with a friend, you might use prompting (e.g., “Uh huh”) or supportive (e.g., “I would be upset about that too.”) responses. If you’ve been listening to understand, you might use questioning (e.g., “How far past the yellow how before I turn left?”), or paraphrasing (e.g. “So once I get to the yellow house, I need to continue on another 1/2 mile and then I will turn left”). And finally, if you’ve been listening to analyze/evaluate, you might use advising (e.g., “What I think you should do is..”) or judging (e.g., “That is exactly the wrong thing to do.”). It may become apparent in the responding phase, that you and your conversational partner had different expectations for why you were listening. If so, you may need to readjust why you are listening and the response you provide.