We can all be better listeners. Whether it’s music, an audiobook, or a speaker, listening is good for our brains.
There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does. Our brains do a lot of computing to make sense of musical notes. Music also has several other benefits.
Listening to audiobooks exercises the brain differently than reading and benefits the brain by improving reading comprehension and expanding our vocabulary.
In this blog, we’ll talk about ways you can improve your listening skills to boost brain function so you can increase your cognitive potential and performance. Being a good listener also benefits the person we’re listening to!
It’s easier said than done, but sometimes when we’re hearing people speak, we aren’t actually listening to the words they’re saying. Besides removing distractions like your smartphone, pay attention to the speaker’s body language, which can support the emotions behind what they’re saying.
We often mentally prepare our responses while we’re listening, which is a form of distraction. While they’re talking, create a mental model of the information you’re receiving, whether it’s a literal picture or abstract concepts. Your brain will keep your senses alert so long as you stay focused. If you’re listening to a long speech, try to remember words and phrases.
Listen with your body
Our bodies can help us influence our mental states. Be sure you are facing the speaker and looking them in the eye. Maintain a relaxed, open posture to receive the information, and nod and smile when appropriate.
If you’re having a one-on-one conversation, you can respond with small remarks to let the person know you’re actively listening and following what they’re saying. Using facial expressions to reflect the emotions they’re feeling shows empathy, another sign of good listening. Feeling what a speaker is feeling isn’t easy and takes energy and concentration, but is a helpful gesture.
You may be tempted to judge a speaker and express your point of view, but if the person hasn’t finished, you might interrupt their train of thought and miss out on the full message they’re trying to convey.
Unless you’re in a forum where debating is encouraged, it’s best not to interrupt with an argument point and rather let the person finish. It’s always a good idea to ask questions to confirm your understanding of what’s been said instead of focusing on your response or interrupting. Wait until the speaker finishes before collecting your thoughts.
If you’re on the other end of a problem someone is sharing, avoid the urge to provide a solution and make the conversation about you, unless they’ve specifically asked you for help. That’s how you stay in listening vs. fixing mode.
Respond to confirm information
Besides asking questions, paraphrasing or summarizing what you’ve just heard is a great way to reflect on the information and further clarify any points you may have missed, especially if the message relates to your job.
Some information may be emotionally triggering for you. Be candid, open and honest in your response. Even if your comment is opinion-based, it’s better than intentionally attacking a person. An excellent exercise involves stating that you took the message personally and that you want to clarify whether the person really meant what you interpreted.
Stay on track
It’s natural for people to talk about a topic and then get sidetracked when they mention a certain word, phrase, person, or place that triggers a memory. If you’ve noticed they’ve gone off track from the original topic, you can try to redirect the conversation back to what they were originally talking about. Then you know you’re really listening!