We think much faster than we talk. Neurons in the brain can fire 200 times a second, while the mechanics of the human mouth permit just 125 words to be spoken each minute. When we don't slow down and don't allow our thoughts to be expressed completely, we end up talking past each other. Our ability to listen (and therefore to respond) suffers as a result.

Not allowing a conversation to take its course can be the result of several factors: letting your emotional response to a comment dictate your reply, or being overwhelmed with work and feeling you don't have time for a real conversation.

Harvard Business School Professor Thomas Delong argues that listening well necessarily involves self-reflection, and when we take an earnest look at ourselves and our ideas, our tendency is to become cagey. To resist the urge, says Delong, slow down.

"You have to slow down and slowing down means you have to reflect and it means that you have to listen and listen and listen some more. And when you start to truly listen, what happens is that you begin to, again, self-reflect — and that isn’t necessarily the most comfortable thing."


Other conversation faux pas include thinking of how you'll respond to someone while they are still talking. Instead, the Harvard Business Review recommends that you jot down the speaker's main points, look for nonverbal cues, and ask yourself what the speaker may intentionally not be saying.

Although it may sound like listening etiquette, learning to be an active listener can greatly improve the quality of your conversations. For example, validating the speaker's efforts either through nonverbal cues (head-nodding, etc.) or by asking follow-up questions will make them more comfortable speaking to you.

Last but not least: don't fake interest or attention. Sincerity is crucial when it comes to listening. Once you've taken everything in, the final step to good listening is offering your response.

Read more at the Harvard Business Review.

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