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Five Pointers To Becoming a Great Listener

     In our high-tech world, the art of communication is more important than ever; however, we seem to spend less time listening to each other, especially face-to-face. Being a great listener isn't only an important skill that humans cannot afford to lose, it's a rare gift from one person to another. It's a gift of time, compassion, and caring.
     Listening helps build relationships, make connections, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. In a workplace environment, effective listening means increased accuracy, more effective teamwork, and less wasted time.
     The following five tips are ways to practice becoming a better listener:
     1. Refrain from interrupting. Interrupting is a bad habit, and it's rude. The person who gets interrupted may end up feeling unheard and annoyed. Even when you are excited about something the person is saying, have a piece of advice, or simply want to express your empathy, WAIT until the person is done talking. Give the person time to complete what they have to say.
     2. Show that you're paying attention. Use body language to communicate that you are listening. Face the person and make eye contact. You don't need to have a staring contest, which can make people uncomfortable, but don't avoid looking at the person either. Put away distractions (like your cellphone!) and give them your undivided attention. Use facial expressions to encourage them to continue (like a smile or concerned expression), nod, or lean in slightly towards the person. Give them periodic feedback by reflecting things they say. For example, "That must have been a scary experience" or "You have a huge smile on your face so it must have been amazing."
    3. Be in the moment. Multi-tasking is a myth. You may think you can do two things at once but being an attentive listener takes effort, and is best done on it's own. Don't jump to conclusions about the topic because you may be incorrect. Also, try to focus on what they are saying, rather than listening to part of their statement, and then coming up with a reply while they are still talking. You'll be surprised how often you are coming up with a reply or an argument while the other person is speaking. Listen to hear them, not to reply.
     4. Keep an open mind. Try to understand what the person is saying from their point-of-view. Refrain from judging or criticizing what's being said. Don't pressure the person with solutions because they may not work for them, and sometimes, people just want a listening ear, not more advice or more criticisms on what they did wrong.
     5. Ask questions to clarify. Once the person is done telling you what they need to say, make certain you understand by clarifying any questions that popped up for you while listening. Try to keep the questions focused on the other person's topic. Don't change the subject or go on a tangent based off of something they said. For example, your friend is talking about a vacation and you ask about the weather or gas prices. If it does happen, help your friend circle back around to the original topic (e.g., "So the weather was great. What else did you do on your vacation?" or "What was the best part of your vacation?"). 

(Pointers adapted from "5 Ways To Be A Great Listener" in National Geographic Kids: 100 Things to Make You Happy, page 181.)

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