Unfortunately, life doesn’t make it easy for us to tune things out and focus on what’s right in front of us. We carry everything we have going on in our lives from one moment to the next whether we want to or not. When we’re at home, we’re thinking about work. When we’re at work, we’re thinking about something at home. When we’re talking to one person, the dynamics of other relationships are at play in the background.
Even with the best intentions, we so often find ourselves not being fully present for those we’re interacting with. We spend 55% of our time listening, but we only retain 25% of what we hear.1 Instead of listening and really hearing what someone else has to say, we’re listening to what’s in our own heads, leveraging preformulated responses to interject and problem-solve. Active listening comes naturally to very few of us. It takes practice and dedicated intention. But the good news is there’s actually a lot we can do about it. And the benefits can be game-changing for every relationship in our lives.
Put yourself in their shoes
Chances are you can think of multiple times in just the last day that you didn’t feel the person you were talking to was fully hearing what you were saying. Frustrating, isn’t it? We all know how it feels, so it’s important to remember we all make others feel that way at times too.
These interactions wear on us, building up over time, and cascade into the long-term dynamics of critical relationships. When we don’t feel heard, we start to question trust and reliability, weakening the productivity of the relationship for both people, which of course has adverse effects on others as well.
Here are some key things to remind yourself to do:
Be fully present: We are very easily distracted today, so put away your cellphone, ignore distractions, avoid daydreaming, and shut down your internal dialogue.
Pay attention to your nonverbal cues: Body language and facial expressions play a big part in active listening as well. Keep your arms unfolded, lean in, nod, and smile.
Keep good eye contact: Maintaining eye contact during conversation tells the speaker you’re focused on what they’re saying. Follow the rule of keeping eye contact 50% of the time, for five seconds at a time.
Be patient: Don’t fill periods of silence with your own thoughts or stories, prepare replies while the other person is speaking, or change the subject too quickly.
Withhold judgment: Remaining neutral and nonjudgmental in your responses enables the other person to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Express empathy when appropriate to let them know they’ve been heard.