Listening is the other half – perhaps the better half – of all communication. Unfortunately, most people rarely receive any formal training for how to do it properly.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” -Karl A. Menniger
Improving your listening skills can enhance your professional and personal life. Follow these practical steps towards becoming a better listener, even in challenging situations where it’s most important.
The Importance of Listening Skills
1. Master an important part of communications. Talking is only one side of effective communication. We also need to be able to understand the messages that people are sending us.
2. Build stronger relationships. Listening is a critical part of letting your family and friends know that you value and appreciate them. Many conflicts can be reduced if we work to understand each other’s views.
3. Advance your career. Active listening will help you clarify your employer’s expectations and priorities so you make the best use of your time at work. Expressing a sincere interest in what your colleagues have to say is paramount to good interpersonal work relationships.
4. Improve your emotional health. Many of the techniques involved in active listening are good for your mental and emotional health. By minimizing distractions while listening, you can enhance your own peace of mind. Learning to empathize with others is a powerful antidote against anger.
General Tips for Effective Listening
5. Ignore distractions. Give the speaker your full attention. If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the subject at hand.
6. Make eye contact with the speaker. Let the speaker know you’re interested. Having an appreciative audience makes it easier for people to express themselves. It will also help you stay alert.
7. Listen for the main points. It’s usually more effective to focus on understanding the key points that someone is making, rather than trying to etch each word into your memory. Listen as though you were taking notes even if you’re not.
8. Hear people out. Let people present what they have to say without being interrupted. Concentrate on what they’re saying rather than formulating your own response.
9. Pretend you’re doing an interview. Most people think much faster than they can talk. You can use this to your advantage by finding ways to keep your mind engaged if it’s starting to run ahead. Analyze what the speaker is saying and draft questions that would help to clarify or elaborate on the main points.
Tips for Effective Listening In Challenging Situations
10. Encourage people to express themselves. Sometimes people are hesitant to approach a sensitive topic. Use open-ended questions and patient pauses to enable a more complete discussion.
11. Develop empathy. One of the best ways to understand what a person is really saying is to put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand their thinking and feelings.
12. Manage your emotions. When you’re listening to something that evokes strong emotions, you may need to detach yourself temporarily from your feelings. It’s critical to distinguish between what is actually being said and your own assumptions and emotions.
13. Prepare in advance. If you know you’re going to be listening to a presentation on a complex or unfamiliar topic, it may be helpful to do some research ahead of time. If you acquaint yourself with the basic facts, you’re more likely to be able to keep up with a discussion of more specialized information.
14. Verify the message. With complex or emotionally charged material, it’s important to listen attentively and verify what the other person is saying. You can repeat back a brief summary of the message to be sure you’re both on the same page.
Becoming a better listener can enhance your own life and help you make a more positive contribution to the lives of others.
“It’s not at all hard to understand a person; it’s only hard to listen without bias.” ― Criss Jami
Enjoy the many benefits of improving your listening skills.