When was the last time you really listened to the person you were having a conversation with — without thinking about remembering to send an email afterward, or whether you have food stuck in your teeth, or how super tired you feel?
“People are so distracted nowadays, and they are not focused,” said Kit Pang, who founded BostonSpeaks, a company that helps people become better communicators. “They don’t know how to listen. And it’s one of the most important things we need to do.”
Pang says that improving your listening skills will help you enhance both professional and personal relationships. He teaches free monthly workshops called “The Art of Listening — Communication and Leadership Workshop” at his Milk Street office, where the next class will be held on April 29.
Here are four of his tips for becoming a better listener.
Listen to yourself first
Ask yourself how you feel before you enter a conversation, Pang said. Are you focused? Or do you have “monkey mind,” a term that Pang said means being unsettled and restless.
If you feel distracted, it’s hard to be a good listener, he explained. He recommended meditating, taking a walk, or writing in a journal to get yourself into a better frame of mind for listening.
Pay attention to body language
“As a good communicator, you have to know how to read someone’s body language,” Pang said.
For example, Pang tells his clients to watch a person’s feet when communicating with them.
“If people are having a conversation with you and one of their feet is facing the door, that probably means he or she wants to go,” he said.
If you find that that’s the case, ask, “Is there something on your mind?” he suggested.
Another tip that might feel sort of obvious, but that’s no less important: If a person is looking down at an electronic device instead of at you, Pang said to wait until he or she is finished before chatting.
Use the four-second rule
“When you think someone is done talking, you can take a deep breath or count in your head up to four seconds,” Pang said. “Something magical happens in second two and three. They’re not done talking yet.”
Pang recommended doing this every time someone talks to you to keep from interrupting.
Offer ‘an emotional high-five’
During a chat, it’s important to note how a person seems to be feeling as well as what that person is saying, Pang said. You can do this by stating an emotion and asking if that’s how a person is currently feeling.
“[Say,] ‘It seems like right now you are stressed. Is that true?'” Pang said. “Even if you get the emotion wrong, you are trying to care about how they feel.”
By naming an emotion and allowing the person to agree or disagree, you are opening up a conversation about that person’s emotional state.
“People don’t care about how much you know until they know about how much you care,” Pang said.