Here are 10 tips to help you develop effective listening skills
Step 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
Do your conversational partners the courtesy of turning to face them. Put aside papers, books, the phone and other distractions. Look at them, even if they don’t look at you. Shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt, or other emotions, along with cultural taboos, can inhibit eye contact in some people under some circumstances but stay focused yourself.
Step 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
You can look away now that you have grab their attention via eye contact and now you can carry on like a normal person. The important thing is to be attentive, this means you need to be:
– be present
– give attention
– apply or direct yourself
– pay attention
– remain ready to serve
Disregard any distractions such as background activity and noise. Do not focus on the speaker’s accent or speech mannerisms to the point where they become distractions. Finally, don’t be distracted by your own thoughts and feelings.
Step 3: Keep an open mind.
Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside her brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening.
Step 4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture, or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert. When listening for long stretches, concentrate on, and remember, key words and phrases.
Step 5: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”
Interrupting sends a variety of messages. It says:
– “I’m more important than you are.”
– “What I have to say is more interesting, accurate or relevant.”
– “I don’t really care what you think.”
– “I don’t have time for your opinion.”
We all think and speak at different rates. If you are a quick thinker and an agile talker, the burden is on you to relax your pace for the slower, more thoughtful communicator—
When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions.
Step 6: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
When you don’t understand something, of course you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But rather than interrupt, wait until the speaker pauses. Then say something like, “Back up a second. I didn’t understand what you just said about…”
Step 7: Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
Step 8: Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
Empathy is the heart and soul of good listening. To experience empathy, you have to put yourself in the other person’s place and allow yourself to feel what it is like to be her at that moment. This is not an easy thing to do. It takes energy and concentration. But it is a generous and helpful thing to do, and it facilitates communication like nothing else does.
Step 9: Give the speaker regular feedback.
Show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. “You must be thrilled!” “I can see that you are confused.” If the speaker’s feelings are hidden or unclear, then occasionally paraphrase the content of the message. Or just nod and show your understanding through appropriate facial expressions and an occasional well-timed “hmmm” or “uh huh.” The idea is to give the speaker some proof that you are listening, and that you are following her train of thought—not off indulging in your own fantasies while she talks to the ether.
Step 10: Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.
If you exclude email, the majority of direct communication is probably nonverbal.
You can detect enthusiasm, boredom, or irritation very quickly in the expression around the eyes, the set of the mouth, the slope of the shoulders when face to face. These are clues you can’t ignore. When listening, remember that actions speak louder than words.
Listening Skills Exercise: Summarise, Summarise, Summarise!
For at least one week, at the end of every conversation in which information is exchanged, conclude with a summary statement. In conversations that result in agreements about future obligations or activities, summarising will not only ensure accurate follow-through, it will feel perfectly natural. In conversations that do not include agreements, if summarising feels awkward just explain that you are doing it as an exercise.