Becoming a great listener is really a very simple process, yet one that's not always so easy to follow. It's a process many introverts are naturally great at and with practice, even talkative ones can master it, if they choose to. Here it is:
- Stop doing what you're doing
- Make gentle eye contact (not stare)
- Open your ears
- Shut your mouth, and keep it shut. Do not interrupt.
- When the person finishes saying what they want to say, before responding, pause for a few moments. Similarly, after you ask a question, remain silent giving the other person time they need to formulate their thoughts and respond. Silence is a very powerful force that's very much a critical part of being a great listener.
Now you may ask what do you do when you're in the middle of something that you absolutely must attend to right then, and someone comes into your office and starts talking. I can totally relate to this for at times I am in the middle of a deep thought and someone just walks in and starts talking without first asking me if I have a moments to chat. It really bugs me.
For such moments, when I really am not able to give undivided attention, or don't want to get away from what I am focused on, I have learned to say something like: "I really want to hear what you have to say. If it can wait just a bit, may I please finish this and then I'll be able to provide you my undivided attention." I find people appreciate and respect this. Plus, it's a better option then trying to do what you're doing and at the same trying to listen. Just not possible and no one feels satisfied in such an exchange. You end up feeling stressed and the other person generally ends up thinking you're insensitive (or some other choice words they use for such instances) for your not paying attention to them.
(I must come clean here though and admit that I have been there, trying to do both, and in the process having been labeled as such. Just ask my wife and my kids, who are my 3 biggest supporters and also my biggest critics. Trust me, they don't mince words.)
On the flip side, this also means that when you have something to say, before going right into your spiel, ask the other person first if they have a few moments. Only if they say yes, then go into what you want to say. If they say no, not right now, respect their space and come back to them at another time.
Go ahead, give it a try.