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  • It's easy to tell when someone's not paying attention, but it can be surprisingly tricky to know what truly excellent listening looks like.

  • Behavioral scientists have found that good listening is one of the most important things we can do to improve our relationships, develop our worldview, and potentially even change people's minds.

  • So, what can we do to become better listeners?

  • At its core, listening in a one-on-one conversation is about taking an interest in another person and making them feel understood.

  • There's no universally agreed upon definition of high-quality listening,

  • but some recurring features include attentiveness, conveying understanding, and showing a positive intention towards the speaker.

  • This doesn't mean you can simply go through the motionsresearchers have found that merely smiling and nodding at set intervals doesn't quite work.

  • However, there is something slightly performative about listening in that it's important to show you're doing it.

  • So, in addition to actively attending to a speaker's words,

  • good listeners also use questions and body language that indicate their understanding and their desire to understand.

  • This might feel awkward at first, and what's most effective might depend on your relationship with the speaker.

  • But with time and practice, you can internalize these basic behaviors.

  • So let's say a good friend wants to tell you about an issue they're having with their partner.

  • Before even starting your conversation, remove any distractions in the environment.

  • Turn off the TV, take off your headphones and put your phone awayfar away.

  • One study showed that even the visible presence of a phone made conversations feel less intimate and fulfilling to those involved.

  • Once the conversation begins, one of the most important things you can do is also the most obvioustry not to interrupt.

  • This doesn't mean you need to stay completely silent,

  • but if you do interject, look for natural pauses to ask open-ended questions that benefit the speaker, not just your curiosity.

  • Questions like "What happened next?"or "How did that make you feel?" confirm that you're following the story while also helping the speaker dive deeper into their own thoughts.

  • Another great way to show your understanding is by summarizing what you just heard and asking if you've missed anything.

  • Summaries like this show the speaker that you're truly trying to understand them rather than just waiting for your turn to talk.

  • Speaking of which, while a good conversation requires back and forth,

  • planning out your response while the speaker is talking is a common way to miss what's being said.

  • So try to stay present and if you lose focus, don't be shy about asking the speaker to repeat what you missed.

  • This might feel embarrassing, but asking for clarification actually shows that you're committed to understanding.

  • Finally, don't be afraid of silence.

  • It's okay to ask for a moment to formulate your response and taking a beat to think can help speakers reflect on their speech as well.

  • These might seem like small changes, but together they make a big difference.

  • And when people feel heard, they report more satisfaction, trust, and connection in their relationships.

  • In the workplace, employees who feel heard generally experience less burnout, and perceive the managers who listened to them more favorably.

  • Unfortunately, while it might be easy to listen to some people, it can be hard to muster all this focus and attention if you disagree with or dislike the speaker.

  • But these situations might actually benefit most from your efforts to listen openly.

  • The theory of psychological reactance suggests that trying to force someone to change their mind makes them more likely to defend their point of view.

  • However, recent studies suggest that high-quality listening fosters open-mindedness by creating a non-judgmental and psychologically safe environment.

  • Of course, truly open-minded listening isn't about changing people's minds.

  • Good listening is not the same as agreeing, and conversations don't have to end with a happy resolution.

  • But even during a disagreement, sometimes being heard is enough to start a deeper conversation.

It's easy to tell when someone's not paying attention, but it can be surprisingly tricky to know what truly excellent listening looks like.

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