Can You Hear Me Now? 9 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

Friends having coffee

Listening skills are important for every aspect of your life – but they’re hard work.

Very few things are more awkward than confiding in a friend, only to watch her eyes glaze over. She checks her phone, giggles at a text and picks her teeth, all while you’re attempting to pour your heart out. She quickly apologizes and gestures for you to continue. “I’m listening,” she says, but you know she’s not – so you start talking to her about the funny cat vids that went viral at work that day.

As insulted as you want to feel, you’re not that surprised. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s being distracted. Rarely are we in the moment, fully focused on what we’re doing or who we’re talking to: Our mind is always thinking about what we want to do next.

Here are 9 ways to amp up your listening skills and become the best BFF, like, ever:

1. Clear your mind
Whether we realize it or not, when we’re about to enter a conversation, we usually have an agenda. Clear your mind and try conversing for conversation’s sake – you might learn things about your friend (and yourself) that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise!

2. Create a distraction-free zone
You spend enough time shifting from task to task in an attempt to get more done in less time. Use socializing as your opportunity to do one thing and one thing only: Giving someone your full attention.

3. Practice mindfulness
According to The International Listening Association, we think at 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute, which is warp speed compared to how fast we can listen. If you practice mindfulness in everything you do – when working, or cleaning, or watching “Project Runway” – it’ll be that much easier to keep your mind from wandering when you’re out with the girls.

4. Use a movie mindset
Become as engrossed in your conversation as you do when you’re watching a movie: Picture the stories your friend is telling you and use it as an opportunity to experience the situation yourself. This is an especially useful tactic if your friend’s looking for advice.

5. Ask questions
Ask open-ended questions to encourage your friend to open up more and get a clear a picture of what she wants to share with you. Another trick to amp up your listening skills: Ask her for an update on something she talked to you about in a previous conversation. She’ll be surprised – and will more than likely want to return the favor.

6. Get your body language in check
Listening skills are just as much about nonverbal cues: How you sit, how often you make eye contact or look at your phone. Show you’re paying attention through actions as much as words.

7. Use subtle confirmations
Throughout the conversation, prove you’ve been listening by bringing up things she mentioned earlier, or reiterating an inside joke. I call these “tie-ins.” They’re a subtle way to show you’re present.

8. Avoid interrupting or topping
We’ve all been there: You either can’t get a word in edgewise, or your friend competes with every problem you’ve shared by talking about her even bigger problem. Tangents happen to the best of us. The second you feel one coming on, resist the urge and let your BFF finish her sentences. Talk about similar experiences you’ve had to show you relate, but don’t go so far as to make her feel like her problems are more trivial than yours.

9. Refine your process
Nobody’s a perfect listener. If you find yourself drifting, take the time to reset your focus. It’s okay to admit you got distracted and ask your friend to repeat the last thing she said. It’s also okay to admit if you’re too tired to meet up and need to reschedule: It shows you’re respectful of their time and what they have to say.

How would you rate your listening skills?

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Image: AnyaLogic

Krissy Brady

Krissy Brady is a women’s health + lifestyle writer who’s so out of shape, it’s like she has the innards of an 80-year-old. Instead of learning how to crochet, she decided to turn her emotional baggage into a writing career (genius, no?). You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (you know, if you want).