There are a few things good listeners do that you can learn to improve your conversations and your relationships.
“I’m probably going to request a sabbatical leave, so I will be able to focus on what I love, writing.”
“That’s amazing. Tell me more. How many months are you going to request?”
A few weeks ago, I had this conversation with a friend of mine, Marta. She is one of my best friends. One thing I love about her is she’s always genuinely interested in whatever I share with her. And that makes me feel good in her company.
For example, during our conversation, she could have answered something along these lines: “Oh, that’s amazing. I’m so happy for you. I once requested a sabbatical too.” And then she could have kept talking about her experience.
In fact, that’s what most people usually do: redirecting the conversation to themselves, using what you say to start talking about their experiences.
Marta instead did the opposite. She mainly focused on what I was sharing with her. She wanted to know more. And asked me to share more details with her.
Great listeners like Marta are rare. What follows are seven things these people tend to do differently, that you can learn to improve your social skills and strengthen your relationships.
1. Good Listeners Forget to Check Their Phone When They’re With You
People like Marta have the habit of putting their phone away when in someone else’s company — while most people tend to do just the opposite, unfortunately.
I see this all the time: couples or groups of people sitting at the same table in a restaurant with their phone in their hand. And I see them entirely absorbed by their devices, mindlessly scrolling their Facebook and Instagram feeds, instead of enjoying each other’s company.
Sadly, I’ve been guilty of that too. I’ve often made the mistake of checking my phone too much when out with a group of friends, only to realize someone in the group wisely put away their phone and started twiddling their thumbs, waiting to have a normal conversation with the rest of us.
I noticed how good listeners like Marta, instead, have the habit of keeping their phone out of sight — for example, in a different room or simply in their bag. In fact, they seem to forget they even have a phone when they’re in someone else’s company.
According to an article published in Psychology Today, the mere presence of a smartphone, even if not in use — just as an object in the background — degrades conversations. When people’s focus is divided between who’s in front of them and their phone, face-to-face interactions lose their power.
Instead, as Jesse Fox Ph.D. explains, the simple habit of putting a device away when you’re with other people allows you to give them your undivided attention. And this makes interactions with you more pleasant and engaging.
2. Good Listeners Show Genuine Curiosity About You
People like my friend Marta are inherently curious about others. They show real curiosity about you and your story, making you feel good about yourself and want to spend more time with them.
The thing is — as explained in an article published on BBC — if you make people feel good about themselves, they’re probably going to like you. And one of the best ways to make others feel good about themselves is to show a genuine interest in them.
According to an article published in The Greater Good, people who are curious are often viewed as more interesting and likable. They are more apt to reach out to a wider variety of people.
Also, according to a study conducted by the Jacobs Center for Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development, people who are interpersonally curious seem to be more likely to be socially competent, sociable, and able to build networks of relationships that provide support in the face of stressful life circumstances.
3. They Make You Feel Important
Let’s be honest, we tend to remember the things we care about and forget things that aren’t important to us. Also, as Joseph Burgo Ph.D. explains, most people are almost exclusively focused upon themselves, their personal interests, and their own emotional needs for attention.
So, when someone consistently remembers what we told them, we feel they genuinely care — which makes us somehow feel closer to them. And we feel they truly listened to us.
As emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorfexplains in an article published in Fast Company, if you remember details about people, it will make them feel important. They will look forward to more opportunities to connect.
Most people crave this feeling of feeling important. And as Dale Carnegie once said:
The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals.
4. When It Comes to Eye Contact, Great Listeners Use the 70% Rule
Imagine you’re talking to someone and they are looking away almost all the time. Would you think they are actively listening to you or that their mind is somewhere else? I don’t know about you, but I would definitely feel they’re not fully with me.
Maintaining eye contact with the person you are talking to shows that you are actively listening and paying attention. Because it shows interest in what they are saying.
And this is what people like my friend Marta do. They make good eye contact — without overdoing it. As my friend Itxy Lopez mentioned, eye contact is essential, however, it shouldn’t be maintained the whole time. In particular, according to an article published on the Michigan State University website, a good idea is to use the 70% rule — that is, to keep eye contact 70% of the time.
5. They Don’t Feel the Need to Impress You
Something I find fascinating about people like Marta is they usually don’t try to impress you. Because they like to focus on listening more than talking about themselves.
People who don’t feel the need to impress you or brag about their achievements exude confidence.
Unlike many, they don’t feel the need to prove anything to the world. Instead, they prefer to enjoy a good conversation and are selfless when it comes to interacting with others.
As Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. explains, almost everyone likes to show off, at least a little. However, the best way to brag about yourself to others is actually not to brag at all.
Also, if people think you’re trying too hard to impress, they’ll be turned off and you’ll achieve exactly the opposite of your desired impact on others.
6. They Never Talk Over You
Every time you talk over someone and interrupt them, you lose the opportunity to learn something new.
As Temma Ehrenfeld explains in an article published in Psychology Today, some interruptions are acceptable. For example, you may be genuinely enthusiastic about what you’re saying, have an important detail to add, or a correction that’s particularly important.
However, in most cases, interrupting someone is rude.
Great listeners hardly ever interrupt. If they accidentally talk over you because they thought you were finished with what you were saying, they let you complete your sentence. They have the habit of actively listening until the end to understand the whole message you’re trying to convey. And this takes me to the next point.
7. They Seek First to Understand and Then to Be Understood
As Stephen Covey mentioned in his masterpiece The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a great habit for better interpersonal relationships is seeking to understand before trying to be understood.
Great listeners have this habit. They appreciate the importance of listening with the goal of genuinely understanding others. Because they know that, as therapist Leon F Seltzer Ph.D. explains, when you make people feel understood they also feel connected to you.
Listening with the primary intent of understanding others thoroughly is one of the most important communication skills. Yet, many people fail to learn and apply it, unfortunately. As Covey said,
The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.
Seeking to understand also means not thinking about how you’re going to reply when another person is talking — and this concept can potentially improve virtually all our conversations if applied.
Healthy listening habits like putting our phones away, showing genuine curiosity, remembering what others said, making good eye contact, not trying too hard to impress, avoiding talking over people, and listening to understand, have the potential to improve our conversations.
Applying these habits can be the first step to develop great listening skills and ultimately build positive relationships.