How To Improve Your Listening Skills
Listening skills along with speaking skills are essential parts of effective communication. Good communication is valued throughout most jobs in various industries. You may need to consider improving your listening skills to fully apply your communication skills in your workplace and beyond. In this article, we discuss why listening skills are important and how you can improve them with this 10-step guide to effective listening.
Why are listening skills important?
Listening skills are an essential part of good communication. When you are an attentive listener, you can begin to improve relationships, make decisions more effectively and reach agreements with others quickly. Here are some additional reasons why listening skills are important:
Demonstrates your ability to pay attention to thoughts, behaviors and feelings of an individual
Increases your power to influence, serve, motivate or develop people effectively
Enables an organization to operate efficiently with the information they are given that may cause them to adapt to market trends or consumer needs
Enhances basic human interaction
Builds personal and professional relationships
Listening skills are also important to many business roles such as:
Related: Best Skills to Include On a Resume
How to improve your listening skills
It is essential to evaluate your current listening skills to select the areas you can improve in. Here are some steps you may take to help improve your listening skills:
Maintain eye contact with the speaker.
Visualize what the speaker is saying.
Wait for a pause to ask questions.
Ask clarifying questions.
Empathize with the speaker.
Pay attention to nonverbal cues.
Provide the speaker with feedback.
1. Maintain eye contact with the speaker
When you are listening to someone talk, you should avoid looking out a window, texting or scrolling through your phone, or scanning a computer screen. Limit any unnecessary distractions, provide the speaker with your undivided attention and make an effort to look at them. This provides them with a nonverbal cue that you are interested in what they are saying, which encourages them to continue expressing themselves.
Consider that the speaker may not look at you because they might be shy, feel uncertain, or their culture may not use direct eye contact for communication. You should continue to face the speaker even if they do not look at you.
2. Visualize what the speaker is saying
Try to conjure up mental images of what the speaker is talking about while you are listening to help retain information. This may be a literal picture or other concepts that relate to the topic. This will help you to remember keywords and phrases when you listen for long periods. Visualizing what the speaker is saying will also help you to not have to prepare for what to say next.
If you happen to lose focus, make sure to immediately refocus.
3. Limit judgments
Listen without criticizing the speaker in your mind while they talk. Even if the message causes you agitation or alarm, try to avoid thinking about negative or judgmental comments because this compromises your ability to listen. You also want to listen with an open mind and understand that the person is giving you their perspective. You may realize that they make more sense as they continue to talk to you, and you won't know the full story without listening.
4. Don't interrupt
Everyone speaks and processes information at different rates. If someone is delivering their message slowly, try to cultivate patience and wait for them to finish before trying to rush them along by guessing the next thing they are going to say or replying before they have finished talking. Interrupting sends the wrong message to the speaker. It may suggest that what you have to say is more important, that you don't care about what they are saying or that the conversation is a competition.
It is also important to refrain from offering solutions. Most often people just want you to listen. However, if you have a brilliant idea, you may consider asking if you can share your ideas before you offer your solution.
5. Wait for a pause to ask questions
You may not understand everything someone says to you. It is best to wait until they pause to ask them to back up and provide clarification for the topic or phrase you misunderstood.
6. Ask clarifying questions
Asking clarifying questions helps to keep the conversation on topic. You only want to ask questions that pertain to your understanding rather than ask a question about something that is not related to the main idea the speaker is trying to get across. When you ask clarifying questions without interrupting, it shows that you are listening, paying attention and willing to discuss things further.
7. Empathize with the speaker
Empathy is essential to effective listening. You should mirror the emotions the speaker has. For instance, if their face conveys sadness or joy then your facial expressions and words should also convey similar emotions. Empathizing with the speaker takes concentration and expends energy, but it allows for open communication and establishes relationships.
8. Pay attention to nonverbal cues
Most of the communication that takes place between individuals is nonverbal. You can learn a great deal about someone through their body language and tone of voice when they are communicating with you. It is easy to detect boredom, enthusiasm or irritation on someone's face when they talk depending on their eyes, mouth and position of their shoulders. Therefore, listening also includes paying attention to nonverbal cues. It helps you to make inferences based on what a person actually means when they are talking to you.
9. Provide the speaker with feedback
Feedback can be verbal and nonverbal. You can use verbal feedback by saying things like, "I understand that must be difficult," or "okay." You can use nonverbal cues such as nodding your head and using appropriate facial expressions.
The goal is to send signals to the speaker so they know that you are actively listening. In a situation where someone is giving you tasks, make sure to repeat the task list back to the speaker so they know you understand what you are supposed to do. Writing down what they say also shows attentiveness.
10. Practice listening
You can practice listening by being aware of what you do when someone is talking to you. Do this by writing down what you heard, understood and acknowledged after an in-person interaction with someone, or listen to audiobooks or podcasts without any text in front of you. Try listening to no more than four-minute clips and replay them to see how much information you are able to retain. This will help you to become more aware of your role as a receiver of information and it can enhance your overall communication skills.
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