How to listen - a practice we were never taught

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30 Jun
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 min read

sn’t it great when someone listens to you without butting in? Being listened to is an extremely rewarding feeling as it allows us to get our views fully heard and makes us feel valued.

Would you class yourself as a good listener? Do you let people finish what they are saying or do you sometimes interrupt?

Listening is a skill which will help people to like, trust and respect you whether at home or work. It can prevent frustration and anger associated with breakdowns in communication to do with not properly listening.

The two main things to consider when listening

  1. Pause time - knowing when to speak
  2. Not interrupting - how to stay listening when you have something to say

Being able to listen to someone fully will allow you to totally understand what they are saying before you respond. Although this may seem obvious, putting it into practice fully is a skill which will take you towards being an excellent communicator.

1. Pause time

Pause time is the amount of time that someone stops speaking before you know it is your turn to speak.

Just because they have stopped speaking, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have stopped thinking.

During conversations, it is social etiquette to wait until the other person has stopped speaking before you then begin to talk.  There is a subtle and distinct difference between pause time and having a break between sentences during which the person is still thinking. Learning when someone is pausing between ideas and pausing for you to then talk is the key to mastering the art of listening.

Letting someone finish what they were saying is good for the following reasons:

  • They feel empowered and valued.
  • They get to finish their train of thought and get their point heard fully.
  • You form a response based on all the facts instead of making assumptions.
  • You will be perceived as an excellent listener and people will like and trust you for it.

How else can you know when it is your turn to speak?

One clue is with eye contact.  Quite often, when a person is thinking, their eyes will wander to various places.  Once they have finished speaking as well as thinking, they will also make eye contact as a sign that they have finished thinking and give you the opportunity to speak.

If you are unsure if they have finished, stay quiet and give the conversation (and their thinking) breathing space. Silence in conversations is perfectly fine and can be great for thinking and building trust.

The longer you give them before you speak, the better you are perceived at listening and respecting their thinking. You also give yourself longer to formulate a more concise answer.

2. Not interrupting

“But I have to speak when I think of something otherwise I’ll forget”  Sound familiar? Some people feel the need to interrupt when something occurs to them.

A few things to consider when someone is speaking:

  • If you think of something, it doesn’t mean you have to say it out loud.
  • If it is relevant, you will remember it.
  • If you forget what you thought of, the likelihood is it became irrelevant as the conversation progressed.
  • Note: Your freshest thinking will come when it is your turn to speak.

When in conversation, focus on what people are saying and trust that your response will come once it is your turn to speak. All thoughts which are relevant will be there when it is your turn to speak.

It takes energy to hold on to thoughts and stops you from listening properly.

Something for you to try with someone else

Next time your in conversation, focus your attention more so onto listening to them.

Switch into listening mode and dispel the idea that you have to say something in order to have a good conversation.

Only talk once you have their eye contact and they have given pause time to signal you can speak.  Stay looking at them and say nothing more then ‘humm’ and ‘yes’ and the usual sounds you make to show them you are still giving them your attention.

Things to notice when you start doing this yourself

People LOVE to talk

Once you begin to listen properly there may be times you don’t get to say much.  This is perfectly OK, as at first people aren’t used to being listened to, however, in time they will also learn not to interrupt you in return.

Learn who to spend your time with

As you start applying this, you will be able to notice who genuinely gives you the time to speak during a conversation. Spend more of your time with these people because in doing so it will empower you, make you feel good and help you grow as a person.

Are you ever guilty of interrupting?

I know I used to be terrible for it before I learnt this technique. What are your experiences of listening that you would be happy sharing?  Let me know below.

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Originally Posted
20 Apr
Last Updated 
15 Jul

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