This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada, which closed in 2021.

10 Ways To Become A 5-Star Listener

Conversation requires a balance between listening and talking.

Whether you are a business leader, a top performing sales person, work in customer service or simply want to be a better life-partner, one of the easiest ways to build stronger relationships is to give others your undivided attention; to listen to them. Especially if you have different beliefs or goals, you will learn more about each other, have fewer stressful experiences, gain their trust and have greater Influence on each other when you listen.

So here are 10 ways to become a 5-star listener and build better relationships:

  1. Be truly curious about ideas, needs, feelings and experiences. Ask open ended questions. If you ask closed questions you will likely get Yes or No answers... but no insight into their amazing knowledge, experiences or stories. So, start your questions with phrases like 'I'm curious to hear your ideas...' or 'Tell me about the time when you...' If you are stuck about how to ask an open-ended question, try asking the traditional Who, What, Where, When, Why or perhaps How questions.
  2. Don't multitask. Be present. This may mean turning your back to distracting traffic, people or TV screens. Also turn off your smartphone / computer – even the sound of them vibrating or dinging will be a distraction... to both of you. This also means don't talk over your mate because if you are talking it is impossible to listen; you can't do both at the same time.
  3. Let thoughts come into your mind and then go out of your mind. Don't try to remember questions that come to you during the conversation – this it will distract you from the person you are listening to. When I'm interviewing a client, I will make a quick two-word note on a pad of paper to remind me of a question. This frees my mind to keep listening. After they've finished speaking, if you think of a question or want to validate your understanding of what they said... then go ahead, ask away.
  4. Enter every conversation assuming you will learn something. Always be prepared to be surprised.
  5. Put your beliefs, judgements and opinions aside. Stay curious especially if you don't share their beliefs. Don't listen with the intent to reply. The more you listen to them – the more likely they will listen to you when it is your turn to speak. If you listen to each other I bet you will both learn something important about each other.
  6. Don't pontificate. If you go into a conversation with the goal of talking until you change someone's mind, you are going to have a terrible conversation... and likely be disappointed in the outcome. If all you do is push your beliefs they will never hear you... and you will both miss out on something special.
  7. Listen to their non-verbal messages and vocal inflection. There is lots of information there that will tell you if they are serious, very serious, puzzled or feeling amused (as an example).
  8. Manage your Triggers. If you feel your tension building, use that as a signal to be mindful, breathe deeply, stay present and not judge.
  9. If you don't know, say you don't know. Don't BS. Remember, listening is your opportunity to learn. Don't embarrass yourself by sharing information you made up. Your personal and professional brand is too valuable – you don't want to be known as 'the person who lies' or 'the person who makes up facts / stories'. If you don't know about something, you will earn more respect by asking an open ended question like, "I have little experience with that – can you share more about... ?'
  10. Don't equate your experience with theirs. If someone is talking about a challenge they had, don't rebuff with an similar or bigger challenge you had. Just listen and see what you can learn about their experience. Don't make the conversation about you... stay present and stay focused on them.

When we listen, and are fully present we are more likely to build valuable relationships, learn important information and less likely to make mistakes or have accidents. Whether you decide to adopt all of the above ten strategies at once... or commit to perfecting one before moving onto the next, I'm sure you are already a better listener than you were a few minutes ago.

Oh, and one last suggestion. When you are done speaking / listening, thank the person you are speaking with for the opportunity. Let them know you really enjoyed learning about them and sharing your point of view / information with them.

Happy communicating, mentoring, motivating, coaching and listening.

Clickhereto learn more about Bruce Mayhew Consulting. We facilitate courses including email etiquette, time management, leadership, generational differences and more.

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