You probably think you listen well. However, there’s more to it than simply hearing and understanding what people say.
The best salesman, empaths, romancers, and therapists in the world know how to really listen. You don’t just listen with your ears. You listen with your mind, emotions, body, and responses too.
Whether it’s a personal or professional relationship, listening can substantially deepen and enhance it. Listening to a potential client allows you to craft your service to their needs. Listening to a friend during a hard time allows you to provide the right emotional support. Listening to a partner in the bedroom means you can level up their sexual experience.
Even patients experience medical benefits from doctors with good listening skills and a mastery of body language, according to a 2016 study.
It’s essential in any walk of life. And it’s not hard to master – it’s a simple mindset change.
People don’t connect to long-winded, self-aggrandising anecdotes. They connect with an environment that values their input and experience. Listening is more important than talking when it comes to relationship building.
I’m going to walk you through the basics of active listening and how to use it for relationship development.
What is active listening?
Active listening depends on your responses. While this seems counterproductive (if you’re talking, then you’re not listening, surely?), let me clear it up. This is the most vital part of building sustainable relationships.
This method of listening involves a few steps:
- Invite an exploratory response with an open question.
- Focus on the response.
- Show you’ve listened by asking a question that is directly relevant to what they just said.
Some people think you’re not listening, even when you are. Or rather: You think you’ve been listening fully, but have actually been giving the impression that your mind is somewhere else.
The communication barrier could be that you’re not responding at all or just using single word responses. You might think that any response shows how you’re listening. This gives the impression that even though you hear them, you aren’t interested enough to fully engage.
If you’re asking open questions that directly draw reference to the other person’s verbal content, it shows two qualities:
- You value their responses enough to note certain parts of what they say.
- You value their responses enough to want to know more, in detail, because of the open question
These are so easy to implement in everyday conversation that not listening this way seems ridiculous. But humans have an obscene number of distractions to contend with and may be miles away when other people are talking to them.
For this reason, active listening has to be a definitive choice that we practice.
When cultivating an approach of active listening, mindset is absolutely critical. With all the will in the world, if you don’t want to be somewhere or haven’t approached a situation with an open mind, you’re unlikely to be fully active while listening to the other person.
You have to want the conversation. Curiosity is an underrated characteristic. Wanting to know people’s stories means you’ll naturally lock in more and ask more questions. Wanting to get the commission is a powerful motivator for active listening in a sales call.
Once you develop a natural curiosity about people, it’ll become natural to ask more questions and listen more intently.
Active listening isn’t hard. It’s a choice. And the desire to make that choice is the key to mastering it.
Connect with a person’s emotions
Emotions are the key to a person’s soul, and they will express their feelings in both overt and subtle ways during conversation.
- Elicit an emotional response
- Read body language and vocal tone alongside listening to the content of their words
- Empathise and respond with your own experiences
- Ask another question
It’s the one connecting thread between every single person on the planet. Whatever triggers our anxieties, frustrations, and joy, we feel them just the same. That understanding is an important connector whenever you’re talking to someone else.
This applies in different ways. In terms of listening, you need to tune in not only to what they’re saying but how they’re framing it and what else they’re conveying alongside any overt messages. Developing emotional intelligence takes time, patience, and experience, but mastering it opens you to a world of meaningful and impactful interactions.
It’s best to pay attention to body language and tone of voice to gauge how they feel about what they’re saying.
By responding in kind and asking how they feel about a particular topic, you’re inviting them to share emotions with you. That shows an openness to really listen to the other party.
However, inviting a person to feel vulnerable is not going to inspire a trust and connection unless you share your own relevant feelings. I’m not suggesting that you turn a light business coffee into a therapy session, but relating your own experiences on any topic can help you empathise with others and reassure them.
People in the 21st century can be extremely guarded, sharing only what they want people to see. But we all live stories that can help someone else, and it’s only right to share those when the time is right.
Ask open questions.
In any conversation, you should be talking less than 40% of the time. The vast bulk of your interaction should involve you asking open questions, listening, and giving open statements to inspire further questions.
Open questions are an essential tool. If you get someone talking about themselves and take stock in the answer, it’s a massive boost to the whole atmosphere. It also shows you’re willing to listen.
For example, if you meet a woman in a coffee shop, instead of asking “Where are you from?”, try enquiring “How do you feel about where you grew up?”
Not only is this an intriguing question, which will get you the “where” answer anyway, but you’ll find that more tidbits of information come out that you can connect with emotionally, build on, and be curious about.
Use humour – sparingly
Humour is a powerful connector, precisely because it shows you’ve been listening. If you’ve managed to pick up on something they’ve said and use it to add levity to the conversation, it immediately elicits smiles. And smiles can immediately lift the entire mood.
However, what overusing humour can demonstrate is that you’re listening only as a way to boost your own image. Excessive use of humour may be seen as overeager to impress and insecure – or, in some severe cases, disrespectful.
It’s all about context. If you’re icebreaking at a meeting, for example, humour is an excellent way to grease the gears.
With this being said, if you continue to beat everyone something says away with a humorous quip, however funny, everyone in the meeting will think of you as less professional and committed. Making jokes at a funeral, even due to nerves, can be seen as offensive.
Read the room. There’s a time for jokes. A good litmus test is offering out little, light comments to test the mood. If the other person responds with a further joke, you know you’ll have a little more license. If they get right down to thumbtacks, however, then put the humour to one side for another moment.
Listening is about the other person in a conversation feeling listened to, getting them talking more, and developing an emotional connection.
Empathy is an important human skill. Everyone is better off for it. So develop your ability to demonstrate empathy in conversations, embrace people, and show curiosity.
Active listening is simply a byproduct of those qualities.
To master communication and become the glue that holds the party together, find out more about my virtual Impactful Connection workshops.