Are you listening?

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing”

G.K. Chesterton riled quite a few people over the course of his long life, but it’s hard to take exception to this particular observation. Listening is key to successful relations in any sphere of life. We all understand the importance of good listening when other people are failing at it, but how much thought do we put into developing our own listening skills? Luckily Cadence has come up with a listen of top listening tips that can help you make better connections with people, everywhere from the boardroom to the bakery. Good listeners will do most of these naturally, but if you think you could improve – try one or two these!

Keep your hands away from your face
Full body picture of a blonde business man sitting on a stool with his legs crossed, looking away from the camera. He is holding one hand in his knee
Right hand on the right knee, left hand on the right ankle

There are really only a few things your hands can do to your face when you’re listening to somebody, and none of them make a good impression on the person speaking. Rubbing your eyes, stroking your chin like Rodin’s Thinker or chewing your fingers all show the person speaking that your attention is elsewhere – when your undivided attention is what people want when they’re talking. If you’re seated, an excellent way around this is to adopt the clubman pose which gives your hands something to hold on to and presents you as open and receptive. If you’re standing up and it’s an informal situation putting your hands in your back pockets creates a similar effect.

Err on the side of silence
Guides to active listening often suggest that you make frequent acknowledging sounds when somebody is speaking but in my experience these can tend to sound false, especially when they are overused. When you’re telling somebody something, it’s easy to tell when they are properly engaged, and umming and aahing convinces nobody unless its coupled with actual listening. Worse, it can also disrupt the other person’s flow. Quietly focusing on what they are telling you means both of you can focus on the information being exchanged with minimal distraction. As with any such thing, though – there’s a limit. Being engaged and asking questions in suitable gaps can help things along if you stay on topic.

Copying the other person’s body language and facial expressions is a largely automatic human process in most circumstances, but there are some aspects of mirroring that are overlooked. One to one, it actually takes a deliberate act of will (or contempt for the speaker) to stop you from mirroring them. But in group situations, like business presentations, people don’t tend to do it, hoping that others will step up instead. People speaking to a group may well be nervous and will be extremely grateful for anybody that’s obviously paying attention. If other people don’t want to make the effort, consider it an opportunity; you can make a friend for life by actually listening to someone and smiling when they smile.

Beware of using your phone
The phone is now so deeply integrated into our lives that it’s easy to forget how rude it is to use it while somebody is talking to you. Modern life necessitates a lot of phone checking (unless you’re lucky enough to have somebody else to doing it for you) but there’s a time and a place. You can reduce the amount of checking required by wearing a watch, if you don’t already. It’s much easier to check the time surreptitiously with a glance at your wrist than by delving into your bag or pockets. On a slightly strategic note, the fact that so many people have their heads in their phones means that any time you spend actually engaging with the people around you will be worth significantly more than it would have been ten years ago; stocks in real listening have never been trading at a higher price and people really notice.

Don’t judge somebody in real time
Real listening involves analysing what somebody is trying to convey whilst they are still talking. It does not involve coming to conclusions about their value as a person before you’ve given them a chance to fully express themselves. People do not always express their thoughts perfectly and you run the risk of misunderstanding somebody by judging them without hearing them out. If you deliberately interpret what somebody is saying as generously as possible, you keep your own mental channels open and can then take the time later to reflect on what was said.

If you think of your attention as a gift you give to others, and try to bear in mind how gratifying it feels when people listen to you, people will love talking to you – and anybody can do it.

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