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5 Ways to Become a Better Listener

Listening strengthens friendships, builds careers, saves money, and improves marriages.

Art Credit: Evgenia Kohan

Picture this: You’re out to lunch with a friend and she’s venting about her most recent conflict with her boss. You’re listening intently. Then your eyes wander to your phone. You see a notification pop up. Your curiosity gets the best of you and you can’t resist checking it. It will only take a second, after all. As you try to check back into the conversation, you realize you have no idea what your friend has been saying.

Sound familiar?

Particularly in the age of smartphones, it’s easier than ever to tune out of a conversation. But failing to listen well can hurt opportunities to build authentic and effective connections. Being a good listener at work means you’ll make less mistakes and waste less time. At home, listening helps develop resourcefulness, self-reliance, and problem-solving skills. Listening strengthens friendships, builds careers, saves money, and improves marriages.

Ready to make everyone love talking to you? Try these five easy tips.

01. Limit Your Distractions.

Getting distracted is a surefire way to hurt your credibility as a listener. Distraction prevents you from being truly engaged in the conversation. You're likely to miss key details, which can prove disastrous at times ("I thought the deadline was the 13th, not the 3rd!"). When having a conversation, drop any distractions that might prevent you from listening well. Silence notifications on your phone or, better yet, put your phone away. Resist the urge to check it during your conversation. If you're having a hard time focusing, try this simple trick: Press your toes firmly to the ground. This mindfulness technique helps bring you back to the present, says Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth.

02. Adjust Your Body Language.

Nonverbal cues are just as important as verbal cues when you're engaged in a conversation. According to researchers, 55 percent of communication is attributed to body language and 38 percent to your tone of voice. That means only 7 percent comes from the actual worlds spoken. Your body language speaks volumes, so pay attention to the way you act during a conversation. To enhance your listening, face the person speaking while leaning slightly forward. Make frequent eye contact. Nod your head to signal understanding, and maintain an open posture (that means no crossed arms!). The person speaking will pick up on your body language and will appreciate your attentiveness.

03. Do a Double Check.

Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase what the speaker just communicated to you. This will helps you better understand what is being communicated. Be sure to ask open-ended questions—those that require more than a "yes" or "no" answer. For example, rather than saying, "Are you excited about your upcoming trip?" try instead, "How are you feeling about your upcoming trip?" These types of questions help deepen conversation and elicit key details.

04. Avoid Being Solution-Focused.

It's tempting to focus on providing a solution to the problem your friend or coworker is venting about. But jumping straight to the solution can often leave a person feeling unheard. Sometimes, people just want a chance to talk through an issue instead of identifying a solution right away. It's important to validate your friend's feelings. Try, "That must have been so frustrating!" Then you'll have a better idea of what solutions you can offer if necessary.

05. Remember Silence is Golden.

Have you ever interrupted a friend with a personal story related to the one she was sharing? Resist the urge to jump in! Interruption can lead to two one-sided conversations with each person trying to get their story out while not listening to the other person. Instead, wait for an appropriate pause to share your story. But be sure to ask yourself whether it's relevant to the conversation at hand.

Making a few changes to how you listen can unlock new opportunities for personal growth in friendships and work relationships. When you are truly engaged in a conversation, that alone is invaluable to the speaker. Evaluate your listening style and incorporate some of these tips. You may start to notice things you've never noticed before!