- Face the speaker, maintain eye contact, and pay attention. Don’t look at your phone, or check the time. It’s fine to look away periodically, and carry on like a normal person. The important thing is to be attentive, and present.
- Keep an open mind. Let go of prejudices, judgments, likes, dislikes, opinions, and ego. Don’t mentally criticize what the speaker is telling you. Be open to receiving information and connecting with the speaker.
- Don’t interrupt. Interrupting sends a variety of unhelpful messages like “I’m more important than you are,” or “I don’t have time for your thoughts and opinions,” or “don’t really care what you think.” If you feel the urge to interrupt, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are here to listen and learn.
- Practice empathy. Try to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Empathy fuels listening, and gives you the ability to really see and hear the other person from her perspective.
- Ask questions only to ensure understanding. Focus on the topic at hand; don’t go off on tangents. If the speaker mentions someone you know, for example, don’t start asking questions about that person. When you notice that your questions are leading the speaker astray, take responsibility for getting the conversation back on track.
- Show the speaker that you understand where she’s coming from. Give the speaker proof that you’re listening. If the speaker is sharing feelings, say something like, “that’s awful,” or “you must be thrilled”—as appropriate, of course.
- Don’t offer “solutions” or push the speaker down a certain path. Don’t try to put words in the speaker’s mouth, or say things like, “surely, you agree that…”
- Pay attention to body language and other non-verbal cues. A slump of the shoulders, a smile, a roll of the eyes, to name a few—those actions give you valuable clues to how the speaker feels about your conversation, and about you.
- Find common ground. You don’t need to agree with everything the speaker tells you, but it helps if you find a few areas of agreement. Highlight those areas, in a positive tone.
- Be patient. Building trust takes time. If you rush a conversation, the speaker might perceive you as not genuine.
Adapted from “Ten Steps to Effective Listening” by Dianne Schilling.