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How to be a better listener

Kate Murphy, writer and author of You’re Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters, claims that as a society we’ve forgotten how to listen. She joined Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour to discuss what stops us hearing what another person is saying and to argue the case for better listening.

You can also hear Kate’s conversation with Jane, or find more episodes of Woman’s Hour on BBC Sounds.

Why we should become better listeners

We can all become better listeners and culturally it’s something we were all good at, according to Kate Murphy. But the changes in technology, like the mobile phone, mean that we’re constantly distracted and we’ve forgotten the art of asking the right questions.

When you’re worrying about what you’re going to say next you can’t focus on what the other person is saying
Kate Murphy

Also most of the time when another person is speaking, rather than listening to what they’re saying, we’re worrying about what we’re going to say when they stop, says Kate.

“When you’re worrying about what you’re going to say next, you can’t focus on what the other person is saying and as a result you’re less likely to respond in a meaningful and sensitive way and the other person gets that,” explains Kate. “No connections are really happening with the other person.”

Kate thinks it's also important to remember to listen properly to your partner or a family member. Don't just assume you know what happened to them today and don't just ask them about what they want for dinner. "Really ask questions to get to what the other person is feeling, and where they are in their life because we change every single day. If you don’t listen to people that’s why people end up thinking ‘I don’t know you anymore’.”

Kate suggests that you ask: “What was the best and the worst part of your day?” It's a question that makes them stop and think and is better than just “how was your day?”

Kate Murphy’s top three tips to become a better listener

1. Listening requires curiosity

"Good listeners seek out what interests people, by being inquisitive in the moment. And when you respond with genuine interest, people noticeably relax, and become more thoughtful in their responses too, leading to a more interesting conversation."

2. Learn to be comfortable with silence

"Bad listeners interrupt, respond vaguely or illogically, look at their phones or away from the speaker and fidget. Conversational narcissists shift the conversation, directing attention towards themselves. Don’t do those things. Keep things open and relaxed, and learn to be comfortable with silence: you’ll elicit more information and will leave the conversation with additional insight and greater understanding."

3. Focus is key

"Focus is key. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say while the other person is talking: you’re far more likely to miss things and say the wrong thing when it’s your turn. It’s OK to pause, or say 'I’d like to think about that'. Just think about why we’re more likely to remember dogs’ names than other people’s - it's because we’re not distracted by sizing them up or worried about how we’re coming across."

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