How to be an effective listener: 7 habits that foster deeper connections

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Want to be someone who people enjoy talking to?

Then you need to do more than just be available to talk. You must also learn how to be an effective listener.

It’s actually quite easy to do once you know the basics.

In this article, I will give you seven convo habits you must have in order to be an effective listener.

1) Focusing on the speaker

When someone’s trying to speak, then you definitely shouldn’t try to change the topic as soon as they bring it up. It’s an insensitive thing to do.

There’s no better way to say to someone “I find you so boring” than by changing the topic or by bringing the attention back to you when they just opened their mouth.

Conversations are about people giving turns speaking and listening to one another, so you must be patient enough to truly listen.

And not only that, you must also be engaged while they’re talking.

Forget about yourself for a while. Stop being too busy for a while. Give your speaker the limelight!

In other words, listen when you have to listen, and the only way to do it is by focusing on the speaker.

What to do:

  • If they’re saying something important, don’t change the topic.
  • If they’re sharing something they’re passionate about, don’t change the topic.
  • Ask questions to encourage them to talk more.
  • Don’t think of something else while they’re talking.
  • Save your long story for later.
  • Be in a quiet place.
  • Forget about yourself for a while.
  • If there’s a topic you find uncomfortable, tell them so and request that they change the topic.

2) Using body language to show interest

Sometimes, the body reveals more than what’s being spoken. That’s why effective listeners make sure they express themselves through body language.

A mute person will be able to show more interest through their body than a blabbermouth whose body is stiff and cold as a rock.

Even if you say “Wow! I’m so happy you’re finally getting married!.”, if your body doesn’t show the same level of enthusiasm, then especially observant people might doubt your honesty.

And if you’re expressing words of interest like “OMG! Tell me more” but you’re busy checking your phone (and you’re not even smiling), then guess what message you’re actually saying?

Yep—what you’re saying is that you’re not actually that interested.

So you see, body language is 50% of communication. So be mindful of the messages your gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions are sending to the speaker.

What to do:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Sit close to the speaker.
  • Nod to signal you’re listening.
  • Touch their arm or shoulder if they get emotional.
  • Open your body instead of crossing your arms.
  • Use your eyes to express how you feel.

3) Asking the right questions

You will know when someone “gets” what you’re talking about—that is, if they’re truly listening —if they ask you questions that dig deeper and deeper.

And the opposite is true.

When someone asks a totally unrelated question or asks questions on things that you’ve already talked about, then that’s one big turnoff right there. It tells people they’re not actually paying attention (even if their body language and enthusiasm says so!).

Now, when it comes to figuring out what questions to ask…don’t be too worried.

There are no stupid questions if you’re actually listening. Even if you ask about something so basic if it’s still related to the topic, that’s all good.

In fact, most speakers appreciate questions—any question, really—rather than just silence.

So go ask away…but just make sure you’ve been actually paying attention.

But if you haven’t, here’s a quick fix: say sorry and start over. As in “Hey, I’m sorry I was distracted. Can you repeat what you said again?” and then ask questions and be more focused this time around.

What to do:

  • If they’re talking about a crisis, first ask if they’re okay.
  • Be truly engaged in the convo to know what exact questions to ask.
  • Remember things to avoid asking for details they already said.
  • Know what NOT to ask—refrain from asking sensitive/ offensive questions if it’s your first time to have a conversation.

4) Showing empathy

You can’t be a good listener if you spend your time and energy judging people. You just can’t, not even if you stay quiet about it. That’s because you’re too busy judging people to actually listen.

When you have biases or stereotypes about others, for one reason or another, your mind would just naturally write off people when you aren’t even trying.

When someone shares about their failures and with teary eyes exclaims “Why do I keep failing in life?” a good listener knows what to do.

They won’t take it literally and answer their question by enumerating the reasons they keep failing.

They know that what the speaker truly wants is reassurance—someone who’d tell them “Don’t say that! You’re not a failure!”, and then give them a hug.

What to do:

  • Don’t give unsolicited advice.
  • Try to understand where they’re coming from.
  • Let them express what they truly feel without judgment.
  • Match the speaker’s emotions.
  • Don’t interrupt them when they’re expressing their feelings.
  • Understand that they’re human—full of flaws like everyone else.
  • Understand that some people simply want you to listen to them, and nothing more.

5) Paying attention to detail

All the many ways we communicate are imperfect and limited, and that’s often seen with verbal communication.

There are way too many things that limit how effective it can be, from the language the speaker chose to converse into the ability of the listener to comprehend.

There are some important details that might not be included in the conversation, for example…and some information that is not emphasized by the speaker that might be part of a bigger picture.

Paying attention to the little things that are included and omitted is very important to make conversations deeper and more insightful.

What to do:

  • Take note of the basic who, what, when, and where.
  • If you need more info to have a clearer picture, ask.
  • Don’t disregard the small details—they might be important in their story.

6) Reading subtext

There’s a lot more going on in conversations than just the words that are being spoken.

People aren’t always forthright with what they mean, and even the most mundane conversations can betray plenty of subtle intent.

Unfortunately, learning how to read subtext—the feelings, ideas, and thoughts alluded to, but not directly stated—is something that can’t simply be taught, and must be learned from experience.

The only real way to learn how to read subtext is to talk with other people a lot, and to take great care to be especially observant while doing so.

Different groups of people even use different words to disguise what they’re trying to say.

In short, it’s a pain to learn, but it’s nonetheless well worth it. You might just be surprised at how much people are actually saying once you read between the lines.

What to do:

  • Lookout for set phrases that keep showing up in conversation. These are often dog whistles.
  • Try to know the background of the person you’re talking to.
  • Learn the basics of personality types and psychology.
  • Talk to as many diverse people as possible to understand the way they speak.

7) Avoiding distractions

To be an effective listener, you also must take into account how other people feel, and the last thing people want when they’re trying to talk to you is for you to be thoroughly distracted… or look like you are.

They don’t want you looking at other people smiling at every distantly familiar face you see or to catch you buried in your phone.

They want you to be there with them, paying attention to what they’re saying.

So even if you’re the kind of person who can multitask, it’s better to just not do that while you’re trying to talk to someone.

What to do:

  • Don’t keep checking your phone unless it’s an absolute emergency.
  • Have a clear headspace.
  • When engaging with people, try to do so when you’re not busy.
  • Force yourself to let go of other things while you’re talking.
  • Practice meditation. It can help you stay in the present.

Final thoughts

So I lied.

Being an effective listener isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

Sometimes we might be tempted to space out when people bring up topics that we’re frankly not interested in.

And there are just times when we can’t help but butt in, change the topic, and check our phones for memes and cat videos.

If the habits and specific tips above seem overwhelming to you, then I suggest you start with the most important thing.

This thing can effortlessly help you build these habits and you won’t even have to worry if you’re actually an effective listener or not anymore because you’ll definitely become one.

You know what that is?

Here you go—Be truly interested in people!

It’s the biggest secret behind effective listeners.

You see, if you’re eager to learn more about the people you’re talking to, you won’t need any of these habits and tips and tricks anymore. You just effortlessly become an effective listener.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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