Being a better listener is something we all try to work on, because it’s such a valuable skill both at work and in life. But as I’ve said before, trying to focus on these kinds of “meta” aspects during an actual conversation is not only difficult, it also takes you out of the conversation—something completely contrary to the goal of being a better listener!
In an attempt to find ways to practice the kinds of skills that make a person a better listener, I realized that one possibility is to turn to the arts! So if you’re looking to try something new, and build some “good listener” habits at the same time, check out these three suggestions:
Take a Dance Class to become more aware of body positioning, movement and non-verbal cues
From ballet to Zumba, in order to learn dance moves, you need to watch the teacher very closely and mimic their actions. This makes you hyper-aware of their movements, as well as your own. With enough practice, this awareness becomes more of a habit rather than something you need to focus on, distracting you from paying attention to what the other person is saying. Which brings us to…
Try an Improv Class to practice getting out of your head
Improvisation classes are not only fun, they’re all about responding in the moment without planning too far ahead. As someone who routinely finds herself thinking of her responses while the other person is still speaking, I find myself enjoying conversations more when I remember my improv lessons: focus my attention on my partner, do my best to make them look good, and respond with “yes, and…” rather than a negative (which can stop a conversation cold).
Look beyond the frames in an Art Gallery to recognize context and practice interpretation
Next to every painting in a gallery is a placard with the name of the work, the artist, the year of the work, as well as the artist’s birth (and maybe death) years, and birthplace. If you’re lucky, there’s also a descriptive paragraph about the piece, which may discuss the subject, the style, or any other information deemed pertinent by the museum, in order for the visitor to fully appreciate the work. By reading this information (or taking a docent-lead tour, or even doing a bit of research on your own beforehand), you give yourself contextual clues to help interpret what you’re seeing, which helps your comprehension. And comprehending situations accurately is key to avoiding misunderstandings and confusion.