Many of us are great listeners; we naturally hang on every word and we contribute encouragement and critical thinking to stories, conversations, and class discussions. But, the large majority of us fail at listening, especially when we’re not very interested in the subject matter. Here are tips to follow in order to become a better listener – both in the classroom and in your personal life.

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Ignore Distractions

This should be the very easiest thing to do, so we’ll start here. Don’t check your text messages. Don’t update your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Take your headphones out, turn the TV off, stop doodling. Remove the distractions and you will find it much easier to focus on what the speaker is saying, primarily because you’ll have nothing else to do!

This is good for all situations, whether you’re listening to a lecture in the classroom or rallying around a brokenhearted friend in the dorms.

Make Eye Contact

The first thing you’ll learn in school is that if you make eye contact, the teacher is more likely to call on you. So, yes, making eye contact can be difficult if you want to stay quiet. However, eye contact forces you to pay attention, as your eyes must move around the room to follow your professor.

They’re also more likely to recognize and remember you if you seem so alert in class. This is great for grades! Additionally, it’s always respectful to make eye contact whenever someone is speaking to you – it is a sign that you are listening.

Open Up Posture & Lean In

You know the closed-off look: arms crossed, head down, hunched over, or leaning away. We see this in classrooms, business meetings, and private conversations as a sign that the “listener” isn’t really interested in listening at all.

Even if you are listening to your lecture, your professor might not think so if you’re hunched over your desk and you never seem to look up. This one is especially important for face-to-face conversations. Open up your posture and lean into the conversation.

React Physically

Much like opening up your posture or leaning into the speaker, you can also react physically to what you’re hearing. Whether that means you laugh, sigh, smile, clap, gasp, or something else entirely, it’s a good way to interact with whatever the speaker is sharing with you.

Let your emotions and reactions register on your face and in your posture. Don’t let the speaker feel like he or she is talking to a wall.

Don’t Add Your Own Story

Part of conversing is popcorn-ing back and forth with related stories. However, there’s a big difference between telling stories to each other and telling stories over each other. Don’t try to one-up your friends’ stories, and don’t think of how they relate to you, your life, or your experiences until after they’re done speaking.

When your friend is relating a terrible situation at work or in their relationship or even talking about the death of a family member, try to ignore your desire to discuss your similar situation or your own experiences. Talking to someone else about their problems is not an excuse to talk about yourself or your own problems and anecdotes. Focus on the unique things they’re saying and the words you can share without shifting the attention from the speaker.

Be Mindful

We often call mindfulness the ability to live in the present, and be alert and aware of your surroundings. When you are trying to listen to someone or something, try to clear your mind of all other thoughts and distractions. This will help you focus on the speaker and what he or she expects you to gain from the dialogue, rather than looking for ways to solve a problem or bring the attention away from the speaker.

If your thoughts wander into the “I” sector, try to bring them back to the task at hand: listening.

Make a Conscious Effort

This is the first step, so I’m glad you’re here! We’re not all born listeners, and many of us struggle with distractions and wandering thoughts, but the fact that you’re willing to try is progress. Just make the effort and eventually it will come naturally.

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Image: Francisco Osorio