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8 ways to be a better listener

8 ways to be a better listener

3 min read
  • Leadership & teamwork

There is a big difference between hearing what someone is saying and really listening to them. So, how does one go about being a better listener? Fortunately, recent research has shined a light on this, and we now know simple strategies to be a better listener…

8 ways to be a better listener

1. Listen closely instead of just getting ready to reply

The first way for someone to be a better listener is to ensure that they are actually listening to what the other person is saying, rather than waiting for a break so that they can say whatever was in their head. If people do not pay attention and consider what the other person is saying, it is likely that they will miss vital information, and therefore miss opportunities to learn.

Really listening to someone allows one to build better relationships and actually leads to the other person forming a more positive impression of the listener, as well as making it more likely they will cooperate with them.

2. You have two ears and one mouth – use them in this ratio

Research has shown that when an individual talks a lot or is always the one to introduce new topics to the conversation, this can lead to negative connotations, such that they are seen as domineering or controlling. In order to facilitate effective conversation, everyone involved needs to contribute, listen and consider what the other has to say in equal ways.

3. Be open-minded

Research has demonstrated that students become inefficient listeners when they try to make the new knowledge that they obtain from conversations fit with pre-existing representations they already hold. This causes them to be close-minded and jump to conclusions.

One particular study demonstrated the extent to which this can occur. Students were taken to an office where they believed they were waiting for an experiment. However, unknown to them was that this office actually formed part of the experiment  when they left, they were asked to recall items they had seen in the office. The researchers found that the students were able to correctly recall more of the items that would typically be associated with an office, and in some cases falsely recalled typical office items that weren’t present.

4. Focus on what is being said, not who is saying it

Unfortunately, people often hold biases and these can influence their views of others. Once we categorise someone as a ‘foe’ instead of a ‘friend’, it is likely that we will disregard what they say. Clearly, it is better to focus on the content, not the messenger.

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5. Use the Principle of Charity

The ‘principle of charity’ states that people should interpret what others are saying in the best possible light. We don’t always know someone’s motivation, so it is probably a good idea to interpret it in the most positive way, instead of jumping to negative conclusions.

6. Pause for thought

The best listeners always pause for thought before replying. This is an effective method as it allows people to express themselves clearly and give more interesting answers. That one extra second to gather one’s thoughts can often be invaluable.

7. Make eye contact

One of the most important non-verbal cues displayed by good listeners is eye contact. Eye contact is essential as it allows people to show that they are listening and that they respect what others have to say. It also increases the likelihood that they will remember the information from a conversation. In one particular study, when the speaker in a video was looking at the students, they were much more likely to remember what was said in comparison to when they were looking away.

8. Ask questions

Asking relevant questions is a trait of a good listener, as it demonstrates that they have been listening and considering the information. Posing questions also stops miscommunications from occurring, by allowing the listener to check their understanding and clarify any information they are unsure of.

Final thought

A growing body of evidence has demonstrated that there are a number of techniques people can use to be a better listener. For example, they can sustain eye contact, ensure they pause for thought before replying and be open minded throughout a conversation.

If a student is able to be a better listener, it is likely they will come to agree with the words of Ernest Hemingway, who said: “I like listening. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.”

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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