Listening is an important communication skill that is widely underused. That’s because although we consciously learn to write and to speak, somehow we think listening should come naturally. That’s not always the case.
Here are nine simple steps to improve your listening skills and make you a more effective communicator both at home and at work.
1. Decide to listen
Listening is not the same as hearing, and it’s not waiting your turn to speak. For each conversation, make a conscious decision to listen, and then do it actively.
2. Avoid selective listening
Listen to the end, and don’t assume you know what the other person was going to say. Also, don’t tune people just because you don’t like them.
3. Give acknowledgement and feedback
Verbal acknowledgement such as “I understand”, or body language such as a nod or a smile (or puzzled frown) let the speaker know you are listening and encourage more effective conversation.
4. Ask appropriate questions
Use open-ended questions (i.e. those that can’t be answered in one word) to elicit more information, and closed-ended questions to confirm facts.
5. Listen for non-verbal cues
For clarity and credibility, a person’s words, tone of voice and body language should be congruent. If they are not, lean towards believing the non-verbal message.
6. Listen with your whole body
If you sit forward and maintain eye contact, you not only give the impression of listening, but you actually do listen more effectively.
7. Separate fact from opinion and propaganda
We all recognize the propanganda that comes at us from the advertising industry, but we don’t always realize it can come in regular conversation too. When someone makes a statement, ask yourself if it is fact, or just what that person wants you to believe. It can make a big difference to your response.
8. Control your emotional response
Learn to recognize when someone has pressed one of your ‘hot buttons’. You can then decide how to respond, rather than give in to a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. The person who can control emotional response always has the upper hand.
9. Make notes
Notes can be physical—on paper or a computer screen—or mental. Practise the technique of making mental notes and your conversational skills will increase dramatically.
Many people never have the sense they are being listened to. By giving them the gift of listening, you can create a bond that automatically contributes to better ongoing communication and effectiveness at work.