If you’re looking to improve your listening skills, the good news is that a lot of what goes into listening is completely in your control and can thus be improved upon. Listening is truly a skill that requires a conscious effort to learn, improve upon, practice and continue to use. Active and effective listening skills can make a huge difference in your personal and professional life. Here are some ways you can begin to improve your listening skills.
In 1991, the United States Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) listed listening skills as one of the crucial elements for job eligibility. This is mainly because you need to make sense of on top of understanding what other people are saying. Regardless of your occupation, listening skills will be required. When you excel at listening, you can:
- Better understand your boss’s needs.
- Improve conversations and rapport with your coworkers.
- Resolve client problems more easily.
- Answer questions more efficiently.
- Comprehend underlying meaning behind words and statements.
In fact, many employers provide listening skills training to their employees. It is that important. Put yourself in your employers shoes. Who would you rather hire? Someone who understands, and can repeat your instructions, or someone who appears lost in thought and cannot even remember the last sentence you uttered? Good listeners are also more likely to make fewer mistakes.
In addition, there are scores of self-made individuals and entrepreneurs who credit listening as part of the reason behind their success. Richard Branson is one of those successful individuals who has stated, many times, how much listening has helped him move up in his career and in the world.
Be an Active Listener
To improve your listening skills, start by becoming an active listener. Many people just pick up information while focused on other things, be it things going on around them, their phone, their children or whatever. To be a good listener, you have to actively apply your focus to the person who is speaking to you and conveying the information. Resist the urge to look away from the person or to think about other things while they are speaking with you. Furthermore, a good example to follow would be Conscious Listening.
A great way to start being an active listener is to practice this in short interactions. Practice active listening in the grocery checkout, at a restaurant with your server, in the coffee shop, or other short but fast paced interactions. These brief sessions will help train you to be a better listener in the long run.
Avoid These Barriers
Naturally, you will come upon roadblocks that prevent you from becoming the best listener you can be. We all have them, I know I do! However, you can work on them if you make the effort to sort them out. Here are a few:
- Personal biases.
- Different accents.
- Stress or fear.
- Background noise.
Practice overcoming each barrier. To illustrate, if you are worried about something, remind yourself that bad situations do not last forever, things will eventually work themselves out. If there is background noise, make the attempt to move to a quieter location. Moreover, if someone speaks in an accent you find difficult to understand, ask them if they wouldn’t mind speaking more slowly.
Concentrate, Concentrate, Concentrate
While the first part of being a better listener is to engage in active listening and to focus on the subject that is speaking, this does no good if you’re thinking about things other than what the person is talking about. Force the other concerns away from your mind while you’re listening. When you find yourself watching someone speak to you, but are thinking about what to make for dinner that night, force the thought from your head immediately and bring your brain back to what is being said. Active listeners work hard to focus on the speaker and what is being conveyed to them.
Use Nonverbal Cues to Improve Communication
Most people underestimate the power of the unspoken word in communication. Avoid sending out negative nonverbal cues and work to send out positive nonverbal cues that show that you are listening. People who fidget, aren’t looking the speaker in the eye and are leaning away from the speaker are sending the message that they are bored or aren’t interested in what the speaker is saying.
Instead, work hard to sit still, nod your head to show that you are digesting the information and lean towards the speaker to show that you are actively engaged in the dialogue. Additionally, be conscious of the speaker’s nonverbal cues both towards you and as it relates to the information the speaker is conveying. You might also like to try these listening exercises.
Finally, one of the best ways to stay an active listener is to, without interrupting the speaker, ask a few questions. When the speaker is clearly finished talking and relaying information, ask any questions that you may have. If the information is somewhat difficult to understand, you may choose to repeat the main points back to the speaker and simply ask if you understood them correctly. If the speaker was giving you instructions, you may choose to repeat the instructions back to the speaker to be sure that you understand them.
Be sure to thank the speaker if it is appropriate to the situation and show gratitude that they took the time to convey information or advice. The combination of gratitude, active listening, concentration and good nonverbal communication can result in even more personal or professional opportunities from your speaker in the future. Not to mention, if you have a business you will have to listen to your customers.
Good listening skills are not hard to attain and come with consistent practice. Start out small when using these skills and you will soon find yourself unconsciously applying them all the time. These small yet significant changes can have a wonderful impact on your personal and professional life.