The world is a loud place. With constant web contact, advertising distractions, and noise just about everywhere, it’s hard to know what’s worth listening to. So how do you avoid tuning out conversation after conversation?
The answer is active listening — not just smiling and nodding, but listening closely so that you pick up the important things, remember them, and dismiss the things that aren’t as meaningful. Here are 4 steps to become a more active listener.
Step 1: Eye contact – Making eye contact with the speaker means you’ll hear everything — including what isn’t said, but gestured. By facing whoever you are listening to, you’ll naturally become more focused on what your professor or friend is saying, and be more keen to pick up nonverbal cues, which are often just as important as verbal ones, especially in the classroom.
Step 2: Welcome lulls – When studying in groups, forming questions, or even when engaging in everyday conversation, don’t think of pauses in talk as awkward. Instead, use the time to process what has just been said and how it relates to the bigger picture. This technique will allow you to form more substantial opinions and responses, and will prevent the conversation from becoming a “talking for talking’s sake” kind of dialogue.
Step 3: Don’t interrupt – It’s a lesson we’ve been told to follow since we uttered our first words, but one that can take decades to perfect. Waiting your turn to speak can become a vital part of making a good impression on professors, fellow students, and even employers. And aside from being a key factor in looking like you’re listening, the habit of not interrupting can make you less anxious to say your piece, and therefore more attentive.
Step 4: Picture words – As a student, much of the time you are listening, not actually speaking directly with someone, but rather sitting in a large classroom. During long periods of listening like this, forming mental connections between the speaker’s words with images you have in your own mind can help you remember the material. It may even help to make small graphics or images in your notes to help you quickly jot down memory devices while still keeping up with the lecture.