Becoming a more active listener will greatly improve your networking power. It’s amazing how most people don’t utilize the full potential of networking. This is especially true for the more analytical and technical minded like myself. A few years ago I realized how important it was for me to start developing my social skills. I realized that they usually account for at least 50% of ones success. Interestingly, they don’t teach you social skills at school, and they weren’t very obvious to my analytical technical mind either. One of the basic social skills is offering value to others. A really easy way to offer value is to become a more active understanding listener. This requires that you put others needs before yours, and maybe even give them the better side of the deal. However in the long run, you will gain a lot more advantages.
1. If a friend is talking about something that they are very passionate about, or maybe they are just venting by telling you about a situation that really upset you, let them finish and get it all out first. What we do a lot of the time is cut them off and talk about our own lives. Believe me, after they are done and have gotten it all off their chest, they will be much more attentive listeners.
2. When a significant other or a friend is talking about something your not really excited about or maybe you even find boring, quickly find a way to relate it to something else in your life. Find a commonality. Say the conversation is about salsa dancing, and your not really into dancing. However you enjoy music, you can easily shift the conversation to be about music.
3. If you are listening to someone and start drifting off, focus on maintaining eye contact with the other person. This will usually help you stay in the moment focusing on what the other person is saying.
4. Keep your primary focus on the person and the conversation. This sounds simple yet it can be difficult especially with all the possible frequent interruptions that will come up. Anywhere from your cell phone going off, to someone else walking in on the conversation. Basically if you cell phone goes off, and you have been expecting an important call, you can simply excuse yourself and take it. If someone else interrupts or walks in on your conversation, let the person your talking to finish what they are saying, and slowly start shifting your body to include the new person. If your the only one who knows the new person, introduce them right away, and quickly catch everyone up to speed on how you know each other.
5. Whenever you are unclear about something you heard or if it sounds vague, rephrase it back to the speaker in different words. This will do two things. It will ensure that you really understand what the other person is talking about. Additionally, it will make the other person feel understood and appreciated. Helping others feel understood and appreciated is actually why therapy is very popular. While therapy can be very essential for certain individuals, I would assume that for many others it simply helps them feel understood. Usually this is what therapists do with clients. They let the client explain everything, and then rephrase it to make sure they understood the client correctly.
6. Be sincere and honest. Being an active listener certainly doesn’t mean agreeing with everything the other person is saying or not questioning it. While you should try to be sympathetic and put yourself in their shoes, at the same time if you totally disagree with something they are saying you need to speak up. Let them finish what they are saying first. Then let them know that while you respect their opinion, you disagree. It’s also important to realize that conversations aren’t about who’s right and who’s wrong. Actively listening to another person doesn’t mean that they are right, it just means that you respect them enough to give them your focus and attention.
7. If there is someone you seriously hate talking to, don’t try to force yourself to be all nice and polite by talking to them. If you can’t stand the person, you wont be able to offer them any real genuine value anyway. Also being nice and polite doesn’t mean becoming the door mat that everyone simply walk all over. Being nice and polite works when for children yet as adults if it’s not genuine it’s useless. I myself find it very hard to trust a person who gets along with everyone else, and always agrees with everything I say. While it’s nice at first getting their validation, after a while it’s useless since it’s obviously not real. It could also mean that the other person simply hasn’t taken the time to define their own personal values and preferences. It’s very hard to genuinely trust that type of person because you simply don’t know what really makes them happy and what really makes them mad.