Communication is vital in our life and conversation plays a vital role in it. It effectively expresses our needs, thoughts, and opinions to one another. Through clear and effective communication, most of life’s issues are resolved and peaceful co-existence is made possible among people.
An effective and meaningful conversation is usually composed of two elements, speaking and listening. Much has been written about the art of conversation but more emphasis is being given to the speaking element. Hence, thousands of books and articles have come out on how to be great conversationalists. Even schools subjects, seminars, and trainings focus more on how to improve our spoken skills. This is unfortunate because eloquent speaking is wasted without attentive listeners.
In 1866, Arthur Martine published his famous Handbook on Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness where he wrote: “The power of preserving silence is the very first requisite to all who wish to shine, or even please in discourse; and those who cannot preserve it, have really no business to speak. … The silence that, without any deferential air, listens with polite attention, is more flattering than compliments, and more frequently broken for the purpose of encouraging others to speak, than to display the listener’s own powers. This is the really eloquent silence. It requires great genius—more perhaps than speaking—and few are gifted with the talent…”
Here are some tips on how to master the art of becoming a good and attentive listener, to be considered an excellent conversationalist without saying too much:
• Try to maintain eye-contact. This is an important factor when engaged in any conversation. Not only does this show respect to the one you are conversing with, but it also shows interest in him as a person. Giving someone your undivided attention is the greatest compliment you could offer a speaker and wins his respect in return. Practice this winsome gesture whenever you are in a conversation. Punctuate your silence by occasional phrases such as “I see”, “and then”, “really?” or even a simple “yes” to let the speaker know you are listening. Even without saying much, do not be surprised if you impress others by your “conversational skill”.
• Be aware of the reasons behind the speaker’s voice. Simply keeping quiet in a conversation is not enough to be considered a “good listener”. Showing a bank expression could be as bad as not paying attention at all. Also, the speaker may shoot an unexpected question that will expose your false attentiveness which will put you in a very awkward situation. To avoid from happening, fill your silence with questions such as “why” or “what” is
the speaker trying to say. This will make you become genuinely interested in the conversation instead of considering the encounter as a waste of time for you.
• Be engaged in a conversation. Focus on the speaker. It often happens that you fail to be a good listener because you are more interested in what you are about to say than what the speaker is saying. This is the reason why some misunderstandings come up in conversations. Let the speaker say his piece before cutting him short. You may not be doing this physically, but in your mind, you have stopped listening because you are busy thinking of your retort. Your anxiety will reflect on your facial expression and mannerism and the speaker is quick to sense it. This signals the end of an effective conversation.
• Do not multitask. When you are engaged in a conversation, avoid distractions like phone calls, watching TV, or talking to others. Your mind simply could not handle effectively and efficiently more than one activity at a time, much less a conversation where instant and constant attention is required. The show of mutual respect is demanded of you by good social skills and etiquette.
Listening is not a simple art to master (especially when you have many things to say yourself). However, being good at it is as important as being an engaging speaker yourself. Do you hear me?