There’s an old Arabic proverb that says, “The smarter you get, the less you speak.” Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Have you ever been in a group of people and there’s that one person who just won’t shut up? You know the one I’m talking about. He’s got an opinion about everything and waxes eloquent about every topic under the sun. Doesn’t that drive you crazy?
Oh, you can’t think of anyone like that when you hang out with your friends? Hmmm…then maybe you’re “that person.”
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with being a gregarious person, nor is it bad to be chatty and conversational. Trust me, introverts like me rely on you to fill the awkward silences of life.
But are you absolutely sure you’re listening when people speak to you? If you find yourself dominating conversations, almost as if you’re holding court like a celebrity, maybe it’s time to think about walking back your output and concentrating more on the input.
Become an Active Listener
The next time you’re in a conversation or hanging out in a group, challenge yourself by asking, “Can I recall the last thing each person around me said?” I’m not expecting you to know it verbatim, nor am I asking you to remember what the introvert of the group said ten minutes ago. Just make sure you’re keyed in and focusing enough on the people around you that you’re actively aware of their contributions to the conversation.
Remember, deep and meaningful conversations must be full of both give and take. In this instance, it’s probably better that you learn to take more than you give. If you find yourself struggling to be a good listener, here are some tips that are practical and easy to implement.
- Focus on the person. There are several components to this practice. If the person is new to you, concentrate hard on learning their name. We love hearing our own names, it’s one of the sweetest sounds to our ears. So, when it’s your turn to speak in the conversation, sprinkle their name into some of your responses when appropriate. Also be sure to look them in the eye and try your best to not be distracted by whatever else is going on around you. And for goodness’s sake, leave your phone alone.
- Pay attention to your own body language. Turn toward the other person, especially if you’re standing. Turning your body, even only slightly, communicates to the other person that you’re already seeking an escape. If you’re sitting, lean toward them and engage them as directly as you can. Watch where you’re placing your hands as well and make sure your body language expresses openness and welcome. Be cognizant of your facial expressions as well. Raising your eyebrows is a simple way to visually communicate you’re engaged with them.
- Paraphrase and repeat back what you’ve heard often. Not only does this show the other person you’re fully engaged in what they have to say, but it also allows them to clarify the actual meaning and intent of their words. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat themselves if you didn’t understand something that was said.
- Ask questions. Remember, you’re trying to make this conversation about them and not yourself, so ask questions. The more you know and understand the mind and heart of the person you’re speaking to, the more you’ll be able to engage them on their level.
- Remain open-minded and don’t argue. Unless your original purpose for the conversation was some sort of debate or (hopefully) friendly disagreement, there’s no need for arguments to be a part of your conversation. Yes, you can debate and discuss differences, but be careful about making assumptions about what the other person thinks and believes. When you respond to their points, do it only after they’ve had their chance to air their side of the issue, and make sure you respond to what they actually said rather than what you think they’re thinking, or grinding your own axe. If you’re listening to someone voice a complaint against you, let them say their peace completely so that they feel they’ve been allowed to make their point. Then you can decide how, or even if, you want to respond.
- Don’t offer advice unless you’re asked to provide it. One of the fastest ways to come across as a know-it-all is to offer unsolicited advice. Even if they’re having a hard time or are in trouble and you can clearly see the solution, hold back from voicing your opinions on the matter. Just listen and let them talk it out. If you truly believe you can help the person, you can direct the conversation by saying something like, “here’s what worked for me.” Be careful in this instance because you’re close to stepping over the line from empathy to sympathy. Empathy communicates, “I hear your problem and I’m here for you,” while sympathy says, “my problems are just as bad as yours, and let me prove it.”
Also published on Medium.
I’m Jeff M. Miller, and I help ordinary people who are stuck in a rut change their behaviors so they can be extraordinary. I’m an entrepreneur who retired from my full-time job in my early 40s to work from home. I’m a financial counselor, life coach, graphic designer, and passionate believer in helping others improve their lives a little more each day.
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