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Take four steps to become an effective listener and better conversationalist.

Good conversation is one of the most delicious parts of a good meal. Want to have great conversations? Learn to become a better listener.

In today’s world, communication is more important than ever—but we spend less and less time listening to one other. Listening is powerful. It saves marriages and money and prevents mistakes and misunderstandings. (Experts say you should listen twice as much as you speak!)

But it’s hard to listen to people today. We record everything, so we’re not building listening skills—plus we are overloaded with all the noise out there. And we are trained to want the sound bites of wisdom, which has weakened our listening muscles.

Learn how to deeply engage with people so they feel understood

The good news? There is no such thing as a good or bad listener. There’s only a trained listener or an untrained listener.

Listen with more than your ears

Most of our communication comes from our bodies. Learning body language cues will help you gain context for the conversation. Listen to what the speaker is saying as well as how they’re saying it and how they’re using their body.

Is the speaker moving closer or moving away? Are they relaxed or standing with stiff, crossed limbs? Are they looking away or looking at you? Are they smiling and touching their face? Are their feet pointed toward you or toward an exit?

Keep in mind that you can’t interpret body language perfectly. Someone’s arms could be crossed because they’re closed off or because they’re covering a stain on their shirt.

To improve your observation skills, listen to my podcast “Kwik Brain 002: Improve Your Memory Now.”

Maintain good ear health

Keep your tools sharp. You need your ears to listen.

H.E.A.R.

Now, here are four tips to becoming a better listener and a better conversationalist, just in time for the holiday season. They are easy to remember because they spell out “hear.”

H is for Halt.

  • When you want to listen, come to a complete stop.
  • Pause what you’re doing, any internal self-talk, and how you’re going to respond so you can be present.
  • Free your mind and pay attention to the person you’re with—to the speaker’s words, tone of voice, facial expression and body language.

E is for Empathy.

  • Imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes, wanting only to be heard and listened to.
  • Make an effort to think about where the person is coming from and why. What are his or her values, drives and motivations?
  • E also can stand for engagement. Engage with the person and focus on the speaker. Face the speaker. Ask questions. Make eye contact.

A is for Anticipate.

  • “Anticipate” involves two things: state and strategy. The state of anticipation means that you’re looking forward to learning. All learning is state-dependent, and information combined with emotion becomes a long-term memory, so make sure you’re excited.
  • Look forward to what the person has to say and acknowledge that you’re likely to learn something brand new and interesting. This will enhance your recall because the art of memory is the art of attention, empathy, presence and anticipation.

You should also use anticipation as a strategy.

  • Anticipate based on the content: Where is the speaker going? What is the end goal?
  • Pretending you’ll be tested is a powerful listening strategy.

R is for Review.

  • Ponder and reflect on what the speaker says.
  • Analyze and paraphrase it in your mind or in a discussion with other listeners or the speaker, picking up key points in the conversation. This is where you remember what the speaker said, using strategies such as the “memory palace” from episode 11 of my “Kwik Brain” podcast.
  • Ask clarifying questions, which shows you want to go deeper and that you care.
  • Taking notes will also help you remember what you learn.
  • Handwrite notes because doing so forces you to focus on the most important aspects of what the speaker says.

Review these strategies in the following episodes of my podcast, “Kwik Brain:”

Kwik Brain 005: My 10 Favorite Brain Foods

Kwik Brain 011: How to Memorize & Give a Speech (Without Notes!)

Kwik Brain 013: How to Take Notes for Rapid Recall

Kwik Brain 021: How to Listen With Your Whole Brain

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Photography: Courtesy Jim Kwik; David Pereiras, Adobe Stock

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