Personal Growth

This Simple Technique Will Instantly Make You a Better Listener

You might think that if you've been born with functioning ears, listening shouldn't be all that hard. But some experts suggest that as many as one-in-four leaders struggles with being a decent listener, and you probably don't need an expert to tell you how common being a bad listener is in day-to-day life. Thankfully, getting better at this underappreciated skill is dead simple, according to one psychologist.

Just Breathe

Why do we struggle with listening if all we have to do is sit back and let our ears and brains do the work automatically? One answer is that many of us listen to respond rather than hear. When we're chatting with someone, we're constantly anticipating what we're going to say next rather than actually processing whatever the other party is saying. The millisecond they're done speaking we leap in with a comment or question.

We do it because we want to be good conversationalists and avoid uncomfortable lulls in the discussion, but often the result is the other person feels rushed, talked over, or generally unheard. The solution, according to psychologist Kenneth E. Miller, is incredibly simple.

On Psychology Today he passes along a technique for improving your listening skills he discovered in the book "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and It's All Small Stuff" by fellow psychologist Richard Carlson. Here's how Miller sums up Carlson's advice:

"Before you respond in a conversation, take a breath. Not an enormous, loud, obvious breath that screams out 'I am trying a new technique for better listening!' No, just a normal, simple, ordinary breath. That's it. The whole technique, right there."

Related Video: How Halfalogues Manipulate Your Mind

Calm the Convo

Could something so small make a difference? Yes, insists Miller, who reports that when he uses this technique in his therapy practice, the majority of patients actually use this moment of pause to dig deeper into their thoughts and then continue talking. He's noticed positive effects in everyday conversations as well. "I find I interrupt people a lot less often," he reports. "In response, people seem more relaxed when we are talking."

He's not the only one to spot a difference. On New York Magazine's The Cut blog, Katie Heany relates a sort of natural experiment that reveals the power of simply taking a breath before you respond. "A friend of a friend who currently lives in France often pauses a lot before she replies, mainly because her French is only moderately proficient. As a result, all her French friends tell her she's an amazing listener, which is not something she hears much in English," she writes.

You don't have to be barely fluent in a language to achieve great listener status. All you need is this simple technique and to have enough fortitude to manage the small anxiety a quiet second or two in the middle of a conversation can cause one or both parties. Go ahead: Give it a try and see how it works out for you. 

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

For more ways to be better in conversation, check out "How to Listen So People Will Talk: Build Stronger Communication and Deeper Connections" by Becky Harling. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Jessica Stillman March 29, 2019

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.