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How to Become a Better Listener

Posted 3/9/2017 by UHBlog

If you’re having trouble focusing on conversations, your problem may be more than inattention or caring about what people say. We can help.

How to Become a Better Listener

Has anyone ever told you to listen up? Have you ever said to someone, "Did you hear me?"

People say these things because there's a big difference between hearing and listening, says psychiatrist Jaina Amin, MD,BSN. A good listener is engaged with the person who is speaking and conveys to the speaker that they're interested in what is being said – or at least willing to listen.

“Lots of people hear things, but they don’t always listen,” Dr. Amin says. “Others listen but don't always hear what is being said."

Poor listening skills can impact your relationships and personal and financial success. Whether you listen to learn new things, make connections with people and/or avoid misunderstandings – and the problems they can bring – listening skills are behaviors, which can be worked on and improved.

“Good listening can definitely be learned,” she says. “You may not even realize that you're a bad listener. But that doesn’t mean you can't improve your skills.”

To improve your listening skills, Dr. Amin recommends that you:

  • Maintain good eye contact
  • Be attentive
  • Avoid distractions, such as texting or looking at your computer or the TV while the other person is talking
  • Stay in the moment, which means concentrating on what the speaker is saying. Don’t be more interested in what you are going to say next than what the person is saying now.
  • Respond appropriately to what is said
  • Show interest through your body language; for instance, by leaning forward or not crossing your arms
  • Watch non-verbal cues, including your facial expressions, which can shut down conversations

Sometimes, there are barriers that inhibit your ability to communicate effectively. For example, if you're in a noisy area, suggest moving to a quieter location. Someone with a heavy accent could, respectfully, be asked to speak slower so that you can give their words the attention they deserve.

"When having a conversation, ask for verbal feedback in the moment to ascertain their understanding of the discussion’s content,” she says.

What about that person who isn't fully listening to what is being said in the conversation? Dr. Amin suggests you address what is bothering you by giving them specific examples of what they're doing and why this upsets you. Be careful not to attack the other person or their behavior directly, which can cause them to become defensive and stop listening.

In some cases, an inability to hear may indicate a medical problem. For instance, if you're trying to listen but must ask others to repeat themselves or speak up, you may want to see your primary care provider or an ear, nose and throat doctor for further evaluation.

There may be times when a friend or loved one loses track of conversations or starts forgetting more frequently a conversation from a few hours or days ago. This change in behavior could be a sign of a neurological problem and should be followed up with their primary care provider.

“The simplest way to think about being a good listener is to listen like you would want others to listen to you,” says Dr. Amin. “Then make sure you are acting in the same manner.”

Jaina Amin, MD, BSN is a psychiatrist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Amin or any other doctor online.

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