listening skillsCommunication is a two-way process consisting of transmitting and receiving verbal and non-verbal messages. Most people usually do not have problems transmitting messages because we know what we want to say and can usually articulate our desires very well. However, we tend to fail when receiving messages, particularly verbal messages.

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Most people fail at communication because they have poor listening skills. Poor listening skills hinder our ability to function within our families, at work and within our communities. Learning listening skills will reduce confusion and conflict by helping us accurately interpret what others are saying.

1. Keep an Open Mind

Clear your mind of any preconceived ideas that you may have about the speaker’s intentions or the topic. This does not mean to blindly accept everything you are told as truth. It means to interpret the message based on what was said instead of how you feel about the topic. Preconceived ideas cause a biased interpretation of the message and increase conflict. The biggest reason for misunderstandings is that the listener heard something the talker did not say. Holding preconceived ideas too tightly will cause you to hear the wrong message.

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2. Minimize Internal Distractions

Don’t dwell on random thoughts. If something is important, write it down and deal with it later. Don’t try to entertain off-topic thoughts and carry on a conversation at the same time. This creates two separate but simultaneous trains of thought. This type of mental multi-tasking will result in incomplete ideas and incorrect assumptions concerning the intended message. Stay focused on what is being said so that you do not misinterpret the intended meaning.

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3. Minimize External Distractions

If you are going to be involved in a serious conversation, go someplace quiet. Turn off the television. Put down the magazine. Ask the other participants to do the same. Not only will external distractions interfere with a person’s ability to accurately interpret messages, they will interfere with the a person’s ability to accurately transmit messages. Thoughts can become garbled and word selection can be affected when external distractions interfere with a conversation.

3. Engage the Speaker

Don’t assume you always make the right interpretation. If you have any questions, ask the person you are talking with to clarify the message. Asking questions will help you interpret the message correctly. You can paraphrase the other person’s remarks by saying, “So you mean..” or “So you’re saying…” Your tone of voice should indicate a question rather than a statement. You will not know if your interpretation is correct without questioning the speaker.

4. Consideration for the Speaker

Wait until the other person has finished speaking before asking for clarification. You do not want to interrupt the speaker’s train of thought. This can cause people to say things they don’t mean. Instead, let the speaker complete the thought and then ask for clarification. Many times, waiting for the complete thought will clarify the statement itself and eliminate the need for questions. By showing consideration for the speaker, you are more likely to get a more complete, precise answer to your questions.

Listening is more than just hearing the words. It is correctly interpreting the message. Eliminating preconceived ideas and distractions will help you interpret what other people are saying more accurately. If you are unsure about the correct interpretation, ask the other person to clarify. Take an online course to improve your communication skills.

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