How to improve your Listening Skills?

Listening is an integral part of informed decision making. Listen to understand, not speak. Here’s how you can improve your listening skills…

In today’s high-speed and tech-savvy world, communication is more important than ever, and listening is the unsung hero of communication. All of us like to praise great orators and speakers, but listening is equally powerful. Genuine listening has become a rare gift — the gift of time. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant kids who can solve their own problems. Listening builds friendships and careers. Communication is a two-way street. But it’s not just about what we say. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth — so we ought to be able to listen twice as much as we speak. The fact of the matter is, we need to be better listeners, particularly at this point in time. To be able to actually listen, take in someone else’s points, and retain the information is not only better for whatever work process is going on at the moment. It also builds far more trust, promotes empathy, and forges a work culture of engagement and exchange. Despite the benefits that good listening offers, however, many people struggle with truly listening when others are speaking. Here are a few tips on how you can improve your listening skills.

Ways to improve listening

Allow silence to the speaker

Give the person speaking time to pause and collect their own thoughts while they are talking. Everyone talks with a different style and pace. Some get nervous when they’re talking and tend to need to slow down and clarify for themselves before saying an idea out loud. Don’t try to fill in the silences with your own interjections. Let the speaker have the room and the time to say what they need to say.

Ask good questions

And not only good questions, ask questions that are relevant and useful, and make the whole room go into thinking about the question. Asking useful questions can help you better understand what the other person is saying. To encourage further discussion, make them open-ended prompts that give them the opportunity to further elaborate. Try asking, “What do you think we should do about this?” Good questions act as evidence that you’re listening to and show that you’re interested in building on what you heard.

Do a follow-up in your own words

In order to improve your listening skills, don’t respond to the speaker with your thoughts right away. It’s far more effective to follow-up on their thoughts in your own words. It reflects the fact that you understood it — and if you didn’t, they can clarify. For example, start with “I hear you saying that …” and reiterate carefully. Not only do you demonstrate that you are actually listening, but the speaker will, in turn, be more receptive to your point of view knowing you understand theirs.

Do a recap in mind

How much of what is said do we actually remember? One highly effective way to recall a conversation is to recap in your mind on what was said. Recall the point of the discussion, and list the action steps each party is going to do in response. This doesn’t need to be word for word, just an overview. Doing a mental summary allows you to make sure that you did not miss out on important facts or pieces of information and allows you to remember them for a longer time frame.

Don’t take word-to-word notes

Taking word-to-word notes of what the speaker is saying can be a tedious and hectic task, and there is always a possibility that you would miss out on some points. If you spend all your mental energy trying to capture what someone says word-for-word, it’s harder to be an engaged listener. Typing notes, especially, can make us worse listeners. Good listeners often forgo taking detailed notes so they can pay better attention. Use an app instead to catch the details. UberConference and Zoom, among other conferencing apps, include a record feature, while Ecamm can record your Skype calls. Many note apps, including OneNote and Evernote, also include recording tools. Let those apps — or even the Voice Recorder app built into your phone — do the work, so you can pay attention to ideas and context in order to improve your listening skills.

Listen to understand, not respond

A lot of us think that it is mandatory to respond after every session, whether the point that the speaker is trying to make is actually understood or not. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Good listeners instead focus on understanding what’s being said, rather than thinking of what they want to say next. Concentrate on what is being said, even if it bores you. If your thoughts start to wander, immediately force yourself to refocus.

Make people feel heard

Making speakers feel that they are being heard and that you are paying attention is an important aspect of great listeners. In most Western cultures, eye contact is considered a basic ingredient of effective communication. When talking, look at each other in the eye. Part of listening is making others feel like you’re listening. In fact, research shows that people who feel listened to are more likely to engage in future interactions with you. And being distracted by background noises makes listeners seem inattentive. What’s more surprising is that your level of attentiveness can even affect how the speaker talks.

Keep an open mind

Listen without judging the other person or mentally criticizing the things they tell you. If what they say alarms you, go ahead and feel alarmed, but don’t say to yourself, “Well, that was a stupid move.” As soon as you indulge in judgmental bemusements, you’ve compromised your effectiveness as a listener. Listen without jumping to conclusions. Remember that the speaker is using language to represent the thoughts and feelings inside their brain. You don’t know what those thoughts and feelings are and the only way you’ll find out is by listening.

Use names in remote meetings

During an in-person meeting, there’s no doubt as to who is speaking or whom they’re speaking to. Online meetings aren’t as clear. Use names when addressing people, and encourage everyone to refer to themselves by name as well. And when you are discussing the points someone made, reiterate who sais what to keep everyone on track.

Take your time

Last but not least, take the time to consider what’s being said rather than jump in with a response. If you’re not sure of the intent, ask. Especially in virtual meetings, it is important to first understand what the topic is being spoken about, reiterate facts and figures in your mind and then come up with conclusions or questions. Virtual platforms are not the same as in-person meetings, so always account for any delays or difficulties.

Communication is a key aspect for every one of us, be it in our personal lives or professional lives. Sometimes conversations are less consequential — but you still need to be a good listener. A little understanding can go a long way in terms of collaboration, trust, and productivity- and hence improve your listening skills.

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Suchismita Panda