Studies have found that we spend 70-80 percent of our lives engaged in some form of communication, with around 45% of that time spent listening. The truth, though, is that many of us could stand to improve our listening skills.
Here are 3 simple but powerful ways to be a better listener.
Before and during conversations with others, take a moment to pause by taking a full breath in and a full breath out. Not only does this slow the pace of the conversation to create more space for listening and sharing, but it also helps to reduce our risk of Amygdala Hijack - the phrase that Daniel Goleman uses to describe emotional responses that are immediate and overwhelming, and disproportionate to the situation or trigger at hand. (If you've ever felt your heart racing and your level of internal rage rising upon reading an email in your inbox, you've likely experienced amygdala hijack.) A simple yet effective breathing practice is to inhale for a count of 3, and exhale for a count of 5. This practice helps us to remain present with others, even during challenging or triggering situations.
2. Ask Open Ended Questions.
Great questions are open-ended and start with "what" or "how." Rather than leading someone to an assumed outcome or answer, great questions allow space for others to answer in a way that is truthful and authentic. Resist the urge to ask questions that end in phrases such as, "right?" or "isn't it?" Also resist the urge to ask questions that begin with "why?" as these questions often put others on the defensive before the conversation even begins. If you notice yourself asking a "bad" question, practice course correcting and re-wording on the spot. This awareness is a key part of the process.
3. Clear Out the Distractions.
While this may sound obvious, the thing that I most commonly hear from team members working inside organizations is that they are frustrated by their manager who is constantly distracted. This happens in big and small ways - everything from the "ding" of a new email during a team member or client conversation, to forgetting to ask our team member about an important presentation because we are too overwhelmed by our inboxes, our to-do lists, and our technology. Consider scheduling 10-30 minutes each day for uninterrupted, non-distracted time to have real conversations with the people in our lives. At work, this might mean walking around the office to stop by and have casual but real conversations with our team members. At home, this might mean leaving our phones in the other room so that we can spend a half hour with our partner or our kids being truly present.
One of the greatest gifts we can give to others is our undivided attention, and all that it takes is a bit of practice.