One of the great things about being in college: in addition to developing all kinds of subject area knowledge, it’s also a time for sharpening the basics: writing, speaking, critical thinking, and, possibly the most overlooked skill, listening. It may seem like a strange time in the academic year to be talking about listening; normally the end of the semester is heavy on the time-management and stress-reduction blog entries.
But I got to thinking: Finals are here. In the stressful times, we can fall into the habit of focusing inward and it’s easier to let listening to others become less of priority. Then winter break is right around the corner, and between all the break-related activities vying for your attention, there will also be opportunities to turn that finely-tuned study-mode inward focus around and commit to actively listening to those who are close to you.
Attentive listening is such a valuable skill, but, like most skills, needs to be practiced. Below are some simple steps for anyone wanting to up their listening game:
- Choose an environment conducive to listening. A setting that keeps distraction or noise to a minimum will help keep the attentional focus of the listening where it belongs.
- Keep your body language attentive. The way people sit, move their hands, or make eye contact (or not!) can non-verbally either communicate involvement or engagement, or the opposite.
- Practice following skills. In other words, give the person speaking the space to tell their story in their own way. Listen to ask questions, allow for silences, concentrate on both the verbal and nonverbal communication.
- Leave expectations at the door. That is, both expectations about the speaker as well as expectations about what they plan to say and how they should say it. Trying to anticipate what someone is going to say next is one of the most effective barriers to being a good listener.
The upside of taking listening to another level is that being a good listener is such a crucial skill that it has the potential to make you a better everything: student, teacher, friend, sibling, you name it.
So, between all the self-care, yoga, reading, painting, etc., that you have planned once the semester comes to a close, consider taking some time this break to emphasize the simplest, though under-valued, dimension of communication.