Being a good listener is difficult, especially with all of the noise in our society today (texts, reminders, emails, to- do lists, etc)… However, good listening skills effect many aspects of our daily lives, from the success of our business to nurturing relationships, so it is important to really sharpen those skills. Listening expert Paul Sacco, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, explains, there are just a few simple habits that set the real good listeners apart from the rest:

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They’re present.

Being mindful in conversations is a hallmark characteristic of a good listener, Sacco notes. When you’re fully aware in the moment, you’re more likely to retain what you’re hearing and respond with more authenticity. That means stashing those phones and ridding yourself of all distractions. “Good listeners really put everything down and focus on [the person in front of them],” he says. “And as a result, the other person becomes instantly aware that they have an interest in what they have to say.”

They’re emotionally intelligent.

Emotional intelligence, or the awareness of our emotions and the emotions of those around us, can help enhance any interaction — especially when it comes to listening.

According to Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, cultivating a high “EQ” is paramount when sharpening your listening skills. And all it takes is practice and focus. “When you’re caught up with thinking about what you’re going to say next, you aren’t listening,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2011. “But if you stop what you’re doing, and really focus on the person talking, you activate neurons in your brain and your body starts to hone in on the other person. This helps you retain more information.”

They pose significant questions.

Part of active listening isn’t just lending your ear, but asking appropriate follow-up questions to draw out more information. This ability to provide thought-provoking feedback is one of the best ways to show you’re engaged in what the other person has to say, Sacco says. “People who are good listeners validate other people’s feelings,” he adds. “It shows that what they’re saying makes sense.”

They’re not on the defensive.

Not all of the things you hear are going to be rosy. “I’m great at listening when someone is telling me things I want to hear,” Sacco explains. “It gets a little more difficult when someone gives you feedback that you find troubling or you perceive as being damaging to your ego.”

Effective listeners don’t block out negative criticism. Instead, they listen and develop an understanding of what the person is trying to convey before responding. “They’re aware of their own reactions to other people,” Sacco says. “The difference between a terrible listener and a great listener can sometimes be the response time. A lot of conversations … can go pretty bad or pretty well depending on the ability to step back and just take a moment [before responding].”

Read more from our blog on how Poor Listening Skills directly effect your business’s bottom line here.

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