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Have you noticed some people seem to be liked by almost everyone? Is it their smile, their playful nature or something they're born with?
Here’s the secret: People who are universally likable are great listeners.
That's because a fundamental need for all human beings is to feel heard and understood — and great listeners make us feel important and valued.
Many of us nod and think, "I'm a great listener!" But are we really? Ask yourself:
- Do I have a problem remembering stories that friends tell me?
- Have I forgotten someone's name ten seconds after hearing it?
- Do I listen only so that I can respond with my own stories?
- Do I find people walking away after talking with me for a few minutes?
If you answer yes to any of these, try these six easy strategies to master your listening skills.
1. Listen to understand
Make this your new silent mantra before you enter any conversation: "Listen to understand."
When you start to practice this, you will find yourself actively listening to friends/family/strangers with intent focus — in a natural way! Listening to understand means trying to really understand what the person is saying and feeling. This type of listening makes a world of difference — it will make your conversational partner feel understood and comfortable, and even open up in ways you wouldn't imagine!
I say "Listen to understand" to myself during conversations, and it has become a great mantra and centering point to focus on the person speaking to me. Every day when my kids come home from school, I “listen to understand” them, and hear the little details about their day that make me smile. They get their day off their chest, and feel like someone "gets them."
When you “listen to understand” people, they will instinctively like you, love talking to you, want to be around you, and seek you out for your great advice!
2. Listen to learn more (not to respond)
When a conversational partner starts talking about the trip to Greece he took this summer, a good listener doesn't use this as a springboard to talk about her trip. Instead, a good listener will encourage one to give more details — who, what when, where.
For example, instead of saying, "Oh, I've been to Greece, too!", say something like, "How amazing — Greece is incredibly beautiful. What was your favorite place?"
The more you can get your partner to talk about their own trip, what they were passionate about, the more they will like you because EVERYONE’S favorite subject is….themselves!
3. Maintain GREAT eye contact while listening
Good listeners maintain penetrating eye contact and realize how important it is to focus on the partner's eyes to rid themselves of distractions.
There is nothing worse than to be talking to someone who starts looking behind your shoulder or around the room to see who else is there! Bill Clinton is famously known to be incredibly charismatic and likable, and much of it comes down to his excellent listening skills.
An "ordinary" person having a conversation with Clinton noted that while conversing with him, Bill Gates came up to stand next to Clinton — and yet Clinton wouldn't remove his gaze.
4. Follow up on previous conversations
The good listener will open up with, "Hey, Jane! I remember you told me that you had a big presentation at work last week. How did that go?"
Great listeners are absorbed by you and will easily remember what you tell them because they were engaged! When you're a great listener, people often say, "Wow, you have a great memory!" when you can remember those minute facts — but it's really natural when you've truly listened.
5. Have good body language
Talk belly button pointing to belly button. Instead of talking to someone side by side — move your body so that you are talking directly to them.
Nod when appropriate (to show acceptance and agreement). And try not to fidget.
Lean forward. If you're leaning back when talking to someone, it sends the message that you're distant, aloof or uninterested.
Uncross your arms. Be mindful of a more open stance. If you're listening with your arms crossed, it can make you look angry and judgmental, even if you're only doing it because you're cold.
Keep a 'small smile' on your face. That's how you avoid "bitchy resting face."
6. Listen to connect
When you're meeting someone new, listen deeply for moments when you can positively connect or agree with someone — because we all like people who are similar to or agree with us! Don’t get into a debate or say, “I disagree!” Here's an example of a conversation where the woman is "listening to connect":
Man: "Wow, I'm really bummed the weather is getting colder and the days are getting darker. I love summer and get so down when the cold weather arrives."
Woman: "I love summer, too — it's my favorite season! When it's warm outside, I want to soak up as much sun as I can, and ideally be by the water. Did you do anything fun this summer?"
The woman adroitly avoids his negativity and finds a place to agree and connect with him. She connects and bounces the ball back to him so that he has the floor.
Great listening will make you more likable, and is CRUCIAL in all types of relationships, including dating, spousal, friendships, and new professional relationships. When you truly listen to someone and they feel "heard," you can touch their heart and soul. It can change the course of someone's day, and even their life.
There's an old saying: "We are given two ears, but only one mouth. This is because God knew that listening was twice as hard as talking."
Good listening is an effort, but one that is totally worthwhile.
Dating coach Bela Gandhi is the founder and president of Smart Dating Academy.