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Being a good listener is an art that can save your life, or at least your job and relationships. No one wants to hire or hang out with a guy who is too self-absorbed, distracted or flaky to listen to a word being said. Even if you are listening to a particular speaker, you could still be sending off vibes that you’re not by engaging in certain behaviors that make it look like your brain is in outer space. Six tips can bring your brain back down to Earth and help you be a better listener.

  1. Kill off distractions. Shut off your cell phone. Quit texting your roommate. And for God’s sake, you can go for a minute or two without checking the football scores on your iPhone. Being a good listener also means you stop working, watching TV or whatever else you are doing so your brain is not being pulled in two directions-although you may continue to drive if you are heading down the highway during the conversation.
  2. Stop interrupting. Yes, we know you are brilliant, savvy and want to make a point. But the point of listening is to give the other person center stage to make his or her own point. Don’t finish off the person’s sentences, even if you think you know the answer. Know-it-alls don’t make good listeners, nor are they even fun to be around.
  3. Stop singing, humming and whistling. It’s tough to listen if you’re humming the theme song from “Star Wars,” singing Metallica’s greatest hits or whistling the melody for “It’s a Small World.” Your own vocal noise will drown out any incoming sound, including what the speaker is saying. Your incessant singing, humming and whistling will also distract others who are trying to listen, especially when the songs are annoying enough to merit you a bop in the head.
  4. Quit the fidgeting. Tapping your fingers, shuffling your feet or that horrible habit of bouncing your knees that makes you look like you need a heroin fix are surefire ways to illustrate your inability to listen. Instead, sit still and calm with an air of quiet concentration. Then quietly concentrate. Body language that helps you listen: keeping your arms at your sides rather than tightly crossed against your chest and keeping your body aimed in the speaker’s direction.
  5. Actually look at the person speaking. Eye contact is huge when it comes to showing you’re listening. Your eyes should definitely be on the speaker, although please fight the urge to stare directly into their eyes like some kind of creepy Svengali. Keeping your head aimed in the person’s direction is a must, as is following visual clues, like a finger pointing to the trash can or hand movements used to describe something or make a point.
  6. Focus on what’s being said, not how you’ll respond. You cannot listen very well if your brain is wrapped up in thoughts of the hilarious response you intend to muster. All your brain power should instead be used to pay attention to the speaker and his or her words. Besides, a hilarious response to you might be a stupid-as-hell response to another.