5 Steps to Truly Listen to Someone and Understand [VIDEO]

Share with your friend!

truly listen

30-Day Writing Challenge courseOne of the most valuable habits you can have is the Daily Writing Habit!

To help you get started, I created a 30-day challenge that will keep you on track. Every day for the next 30 days you will get a writing prompt. Take the first step and enroll now.
Sign up for your 30-day writing challenge.

Understanding is hard.

Has there ever been a situation where the other person completely misunderstood what you were saying?

If you want other people to trust you, then listen to what they have to say. If you want to be understood, then you also have to listen.

In a conversation, we are often focusing on what to say next or how to cut in, not what the person is actually talking about. It’s all about me, me, me…

When you give your full attention, they will feel that. Your conversation partner will perceive you as an intense listener who’s really interested in the conversation. You will get a deeper understanding of your conversation partner and learn to see the point of view of other people.

This is active listening.

Listening is one of the most undervalued skills that everyone thinks they have mastered. When you seek to understand the other person’s point of view, then focus on that.

But listening is like any other skill. You can learn to listen and then practice listening to become a better conversation partner. Watch this video Julian Treasure for some compelling arguments:

Below I have listed the five techniques that help you become a better listener. Write them down, make flashcards, or use other tactics to internalize and master the listening skill.

5 ways to listen better

In our louder and louder world, says sound expert Julian Treasure, “We are losing our listening.” In this short, fascinating talk, Treasure shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening — to other people and the world around you.

1. Fully focus on your partner

First, focus fully on your conversation partner. If you have tried meditation, then approach listening the same way. Replace the focus on yourself and your body with full attention on the person you are talking with. Don’t think what you are going to say next, think only about what they are saying.

Truly listening requires considerable mental effort, and you have to remind yourself to focus as your thoughts are trying to jump to other matters. Willfully bring your attention back to your partner every time the mind starts to wander. You will lose focus more often than you think possible, and if you are not careful, you’ll forget to bring your focus back to the conversation and your partner.

How to give your brain something to do that relates to the conversation and the person you are talking with? The following are the different aspects that help you build context and understand the other side better.

Action item:
In your next conversation, focus on your partner. Do not think about what you are going to say next. Whenever your mind drifts to crafting answers, go back to the focused listening mode.

Ernest Hemingway quote listen

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. ~ Ernest Hemingway

2. The tone of voice

The tone of voice will speak volumes about how the words are meant to be taken. Happy, angry, funny, ironic, sad, etc. The same sentence may have opposite meaning depending on how the speaker is saying it. Their pronunciation may give clues to their origins. How they speak adds to the understanding of how this may relate to the subject of the discussion.

Read next:  Go for a Walk to Boost Your Well-Being [VIDEO]

Maybe someone has a tone of voice that distorts their message? Perhaps they always sound angry without even realizing it. If you can detect that and act accordingly, then you may have just made a life-long friend.

Action item:
Focus on the tone of voice and try to understand how it interacts with the content of what the other person is saying.

3. Facial expressions

The expression on their face may have some clues about their attitudes. However, do not take expressions at face value. You may mistake concentration for anger or relaxation with arrogance. Combine the different aspects to get a coherent picture.

Along with the face, look at what their body is saying? Are they laid back and relaxed or on the edge of the? Are they leaning in or keeping their distance?

For example, there’s the “angry bitch face.” Some people may appear angry when they focus or think deeply. The expression on their face has nothing to do with you, and sometimes people are unaware that they seem angry or even disrespectful to others.

The opposite is also true. Some people always smile.

Action item:
Focus on and try to see through the body language and facial expressions. You will get more information and may make new friends.

listening quotes Sinek

There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. ~ Simon Sinek

4. The details

What words and phrases do they use?

  • This or that
  • Goal or objective
  • Soda or pop

Take it in and weave it into your understanding of the topic and the person. Focusing on the words people use helps you get closer to them. We tend to like the people who use similar language and intonation.

The speed of their speech may hint at their emotional states. Are they talking fast because they are nervous, angry, or excited? Is the lack of emotion due to thoughtfulness or boredom?

Are they happy to see you, or maybe they are in a hurry and actually want to get away from the conversation you are having? If you sense nervousness, do something to defuse the situation.

Action item:
Before having a conversation decide to focus on the other person’s use of language and emotional state.

5. Seek understanding

Seek understanding, but don’t try to decipher all the signals you have collected. The mental load will lead to losing focus and defeating the point of this exercise. You want to be the sponge but leave the processing for later.

Read next:  Why Fake It Till You Make It is a Great Way to Improve Yourself

Do not judge and be on their side. You have all the time in the world to change sides and confront them. Start with the acceptance and attempt to see their side of the issue. If something is unclear, ask for more details to fill blanks. If something seems contrary to what you believe, ask for an explanation. Make them talk more by asking:

  • and then,
  • really,
  • did I get that right,
  • how do/did you feel about that, etc.

You can apply this to any exchange — the 3-hours long philosophical discussion with the friend, the meeting with the client, or the brief encounter with the checkout clerk. The key is to focus, not criticize and seek understanding, so your conversation partner feels your interest and respect.

Action item:
Learn the phrases that help you get the other person to open up and share details. Use flashcards or come back to this post after a week and reinforce what you have learned.

listening quotes Baruch

Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking. ~ Bernard M. Baruch

Combine the 5 aspects of listening

Focus on your conversation partner and avoid thinking about your talking points. In the beginning, it may be difficult to focus on all the aspects of your partner. Start with any of the three key aspects.

For example, start with facial expressions. These would probably be the easiest to follow. As you begin to get the hang of it, add another level. What tone of voice goes with what expression? After that, you can add the details of how and what they are saying.

Sometimes it’s blindingly obvious “Hey, dude” versus “Excuse me, sir.” Other times it may be as subtle as catching a slight difference in how they use specific words.

As you get better at listening, you will gain a deeper understanding of the other person.

Now check out the other posts that help you understand people better:

Now resolve to focus on conversations for just one day and see what happens.

listening quotes McGill

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. ~ Bryant H. McGill

Image: Giant listening device by James Vaughan
Image: Ernest Hemingway at the Finca Vigia, Cuba 1946 by Wikimedia Commons

Share with your friend!

Priit Kallas

Founder of FixWillpower.com. I created FixWillpower to help you reach your goals. I have struggled my entire life to be consistent and avoid procrastination. The goal is to have a good life, do the things you love and get your results with minimum effort. FixWillpower website is about how I create motivation and productivity in my life. I write about the tools and techniques, best books, scientific research, and everything else that helps you move faster and stay on track. Minimum effort doesn’t mean slacking off. Minimum effort is about effectiveness and productivity. If there is a way to reach a goal in a shorter time or with less exertion, then you should use that. I will help you be smarter and reach goals faster. About FixWillpower

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. […] Improve Your Life #14: Truly Listen […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get the latest research on how to improve yourself and reach your goals:

Research and ideas on how to build your willpower, motivation, and habits when you need it.

You have Successfully Subscribed!