How can we improve our listening skills?
We might be tempted to think that listening does not require any skills, and thankfully, for most people, it is a natural thing to hear. The reality is that we often complain that people ‘just don’t listen!’ and we can be very frustrated when this happens. True, they may have heard every word that we said but have not understood the meaning of those words and the action to take. I am sure that someone will have said that about you! After all, we are all human and it’s unlikely that anyone has taught you how to really listen.
So, let’s go back to the opening question; ‘how can we improve our listening skills?’
It would be easy to simply say, ‘concentrate on what it being said’. What though can help us to concentrate and really listen?
Listening Skills – My tips to help you improve
My first tip is really easy. Look at the person speaking and do not be tempted to gaze elsewhere. In a one to one situation you are less likely to let your eyes wander but in a group or if sitting in a larger audience it’s easier to look around. Once our eyes rest on something else, our mind and thoughts follow. We will lose concentration, the ability to comprehend and absorb the very things we are there to listen to.
By focusing on the speaker you will also be able to pick up on body language. This is very important when listening to friends or colleagues that might be struggling to express what is really on their mind. Their body language might tell you more than is being revealed in their speech.
My second tip is to develop active listening. This is for one to one or small meetings where you can speak to the person you are communicating with. Active listening means you getting involved which could be something as simple as nodding to show that you’re listening. Active listening also involves asking questions to gain more understanding or to clarify what you have heard. Not everyone is clear in explaining what they mean, particularly if they are upset or angry. A good tip is to step in at an appropriate time and review the key points that you have heard. You can start this with phrases such as, ‘so I let me recap my understanding of this’ or ‘as I understand it, you are saying that ….. ‘. This is a particularly useful technique for sales people.
As you listen look out for ideas, not just the words. Words, after all, are there to put across ideas and not a collection of sounds. When we communicate it is to pass on or share ideas, thoughts, and feelings. A 10-minute conversation may only have one point that we really need be concerned about, so make sure we look for that and remember it.
Taking Notes can improve listening skills
Tip number 3. Take notes. When taking notes there is a word of warning. Don’t try and write down everything that’s being said. Just note the key points in as few words as possible. The notes should be there for you to concentrate and listen. Taking notes can actually become a distraction for many people, so do take care not to let that happen to you. Doodles are not allowed! As in my second tip when you clarify points you can write a note, which really does show not only that you’re listening but plan to take action later.
Listening Skills – listen for what is not spoken
Tip number 4. Listen to what is not said. For example, if you ask someone a question and they skirt around, this could be a sign that something important could be unsaid. Why are they avoiding the answer or perhaps it is a partial answer. Counsellors certainly have to develop this skill of listening for the unspoken. They will often tell you that what is not said is often the most important. When you link this skill with looking at body language it becomes a very powerful tool in conversational skills.
I spent many years as a financial adviser and mortgage broker and received numerous training sessions on how to improve my listening skills. That training has been very useful over the years and not just for business.
I hope that you have found these tips helpful and do hope that you will leave a comment in the box below.