Do you ever find yourself listening to someone and not really hearing them? Maybe you’re thinking of the next thing you want to say, or you’re distracted by a thought or something going on around you. I know I suffer from those problems frequently. I just read an article with some tips on listening better and I’ve also read a lot of self-help resources with other tips. Here are some of my thoughts.
One of my biggest problems is eye contact. If I’m not looking at you but I’m still nodding my head and saying “uh huh” at the right times I’m probably not listening to you. I know it’s hard to believe but I have mastered the art of appearing to be listening when I’m not (it just kind of happened). Make eye contact with people to reduce distractions when listening to them. And if you’re talking to someone try to notice if they are looking at you. If they aren’t they might not be listening with their full attention, though some people are more skilled at multitasking than others. Still, it’s rude to be doing something else while someone is talking to you.
This leads me to another of my problems: getting distracted and doing something else while someone talks to me. I might check my inbox quickly and get distracted by an email, forgetting I am talking to someone. This splits my attention and reduces my ability to listen well. This can especially be bad if I’m on the phone at the same time as my computer and then I realize I missed something important and don’t know what we’re talking about anymore. Then I need to ask the person to repeat themselves (I’m sorry if I have done this to you). To fix that issue I can either not do anything else while I am talking to someone or I can let them know that now is not a good time to talk.
It’s okay to be busy and I shouldn’t be afraid to be honest with people about whether I can talk undistracted at that moment. If I have a deadline in an hour I can talk after it’s done and not before. Sometimes the best way to avoid listening poorly is to be honest with myself about whether I have the time to listen. Which leads me to another article to write one day: how to get people to understand that you are too busy to talk right then.
Some people just don’t care about interrupting you whenever they feel they need to. They value their time more than yours. Once I get my listening skills more consistent I can tackle this.