If you want to become a master communicator, you’ve got to become an incredible listener. Think back to all of the people that have ever been what you would consider master communicators in your life, it could have been your grandmother, a grandfather. It could have been your parents. It could have been a relative. It could have been a pastor or a spiritual leader or advisor in your life. It could have been your psychologist or psychiatrist or anybody that you’ve ever admired and respected for their ability to communicate effectively. I guarantee you one of the greatest qualities that they possess is their ability to be an incredible listener.

Our biology tells us a whole lot about this because we’ve got two ears and one mouth, which means we should be listening a whole lot more than we’re actually talking, but it’s amazing how few of us do that. If we’re going to become effective master communicators, we’ve got to become incredible listeners and we have to develop the skill of listening. I remember when I was in undergrad and grad school, I was amazed at just how important the subject of listening was. In fact, I remember in undergrad, I actually took a semester-long course in listening called, “Who’s a Master?” I was blown away. I said, “There is no way we can study the concept of listening for an entire semester,” and boy was I wrong. It was powerful.

I am going to share with you eight simple but powerful ways that you can become a more active listener. If you’re going to become a master communicator, you’ve got to know how to receive that information that’s coming from the sender, how to decode it, how to encode feedback and get it back to them, and develop that dance of communication and create that flow that enables you to become a more effective and more powerful communicator.

#1 Remove All Barriers and Distractions

When you’re listening to somebody, it’s significant that you get as much stuff out of the way. Take your bluetooth out of your ear. Put your phone on vibrate. Get rid of any and all distractions, barriers between you and the individual so that you can have a clean line and a clear line of communication and interaction with the other person.

I can’t tell you how many times folks say, “Okay hey, I’m listening to you,” but they’re not listening. What are they doing? They’re text messaging somebody, or they’re checking email on their phone, or they’re checking email on their computer, so even if you’re in a one-on-one interaction with somebody, and let’s say you got your laptop up, if you want to become an effective listener, instead of keeping the laptop up, why don’t you pull the screen down, not close it, but just pull the screen down so that that screen is not a distraction. Take your cell phone and put it on vibrate and put your bag off to the side, and really give that person one-on-one attention. It’s so key that you get rid of as many distractions and barriers as possible, and sometimes, if the environment that you’re in is not going to work, sometimes it’s better to get out of your common, normal place. Go to the beach. Go to the park. Go somewhere where you can get away from all the rigmarole and all the hype and all the noise and everything like that so that you can pay more direct, deliberate, personal, and professional attention to this person as you’re trying to listen to them.

# 2 Pay Close Attention to What the Person is Saying and not Saying

If you want to become a great listener, you’ve got to learn how to focus on what they’re saying. Listen to what it is that they’re saying. Be an active listener. How are you active in your listening? When you’re active in your listening, you’re engaged. The eye contact is there. You’re paying attention to what they’re saying. You’re giving them feedback: “Hm. Yeah. I understand. I’m with you. I get it. Keep going. Tell me more.” Be there to listen to what it is that they’re saying. Now, while you’re doing that, also listen to what they’re not saying. That means you have to focus on that 93% of communication that’s nonverbal, which means you’ve got to focus on the things that you’re not hearing them say, but you have to be careful with that, because you don’t want to assume or infer or imply that something is being said that is not being said.

Reading between the lines is a good thing, but sometimes it can get us in trouble because we could be reading the wrong thing. It’s important that if we’re going to become effective listeners and incredible listeners as master communicators that we pay attention to what’s being said, but also, let’s pay attention to what’s not being said and of course, most importantly, let’s pay attention to how it’s being said.

#3 Study Their Body Language

This is a part of studying how it’s being said. Study their body language. Study their breathing. Are they breathing deep or are they breathing shallow? Are they breathing fast or are they breathing slow? Are they breathing intentionally or are they stumbling upon breaths every now and then?

This will tell you a lot about the person. Are their eyes shifting all over the place, or are they engaged in you just like you’re engaged in them? If you want to become an incredible listener, you’ve got to pay attention to all this body language. Look at how they’re sitting, how they’re standing. Are their arms folded? Are their arms crossed? Are they guarded against you? Or are they kind of close to you? Are they leaning into you or are they leaning further back from you? These are all things that will give you some indicators about what’s really going on in that head of theirs as you’re trying to become a more effective listener. Listen, this isn’t just one-on-one listening with one person. This is about understanding the way that groups function.

If you’re giving a focus group in your organization, your corporation, your business or your professional teams, pay attention to all of this signs. All these principles apply whether you’re using them in personal situations or whether you’re using them in professional situations. Apply it in either environment.

#4 Summarize and Restate

Summarizing and restating what you’ve heard is a great way to be an active listener. After someone has finished their statement you should first summarize what they said and get clarification like this: “Okay, so this is what I hear you saying.” “What I hear you saying is this.” “What I believe that you’re trying to say is that.” “So let me see if I’m right about what you’re feeling.”

These are all different phrases and statements that you can use to summarize and restate, which is a great way to make sure that you and the person that you are communicating to are on the same page, because you might interpret something completely different from what they really meant. That’s why it’s significant that you summarize and restate from time to time.

Check in next week for the next 4 simple ways to improve your listening skills.