Communication is a two-way street. It’s one thing to speak well, but there is true art in listening well. We all view ourselves as good listeners, yet in all honesty most of us could use some improvement. A truly great listener has become a rare gift. It helps build relationships, resolve issues, enhance understanding, end conflicts, and improve efficiency. Both at work and at home, it is essential.
Good listening provides validation, affirmation, and trust. It goes way beyond just nodding and not interrupting until it’s your turn to talk. So, here are 8 tips to help you develop great listening skills.
Listening Skill #1: Face the speaker and focus
Eye contact is considered a basic ingredient of good communication. Want clear communication? Look the other person in the eye. Although you can totally carry on a conversation from across the room, or another room, if the conversation continues for any length of time, there is a need to connect face to face.
When in conversation, trying to talk to someone while they scan their computer screen or phone, look out the window or watch something in the room does not make you feel validated.
Want real conversation, give 100% focus. Put aside papers, books, the phone or other distractions. Stay focused even if the person doesn’t look at you. Anger, shyness, uncertainty, guilt, or other emotions can inhibit eye contact but don’t lose your focus.
Listening Skill #2: Be Open
While opinions and judgments may pop into your head, set them aside while you listen and hear the whole story. Jumping in with your thoughts and opinions may shut down the other person before they get their whole story out in the open.
Listening without casting judgment or mentally criticizing is difficult – it’s our natural inclination. As soon as you start processing your own thoughts instead of being focused, you compromise your ability to be an effective listener.
Wait for the person to ask for your opinion before offering it.
Listening Skill #3: Ask Questions
When appropriate, ask questions, get details. Be interested in what is being said. Asking questions demonstrates that you are listening and interested. Making room for answers helps unpack additional meaning and creates opportunity for a great exchange of ideas or thoughts.
Listening Skill #4: Whole body listening
80% of what we communicate comes from non-verbals like facial expressions, gestures, and posture. Thus, whole body listening means using your eyes to catch those nonverbals, your brain to think as the conversation is being laid out and your heart to put yourself in their shoes and truly feel your emotions.
Listening Skill #5: Validate with simple phrases
When people feel they aren’t being heard, they tend to act out or shut down. In order to validate someone use simple phrases like: “of course”, “that makes sense”, “I get it”, “hum”, “uh huh.”
Don’t be a sentence-grabber. We all talk and process at different paces. Some fast and some slower. Fast processors (that’s me) don’t slow down our mental pace long enough to listen effectively. Then we try to speed up the other person by interrupting and finishing their sentences. This doesn’t generally go over well. It takes patience to be a good listener.
Listening Skill #6: Listen to what’s not being said
Look for clues – does the speaker’s face match their words? Maybe there an awkward giggle or laugh. What is their body language doing – crossed arms, slumped shoulders, body shifted away from you?
Is their tone defensive, mocking or belligerent? Stay calm, keep your tone even and ask questions. Coax them back into a calm exchange.
Becoming a great listener is hard. It is so much easier for us to multitask, share our own experiences and offer advice.
Listening Skill #7: Don’t plan ahead
When you are listening, don’t spend the whole time planning what to say next. It is impossible to plan out your response and listen at the same time. Focus on what the other person is saying. Planning ahead says this isn’t a conversation, it’s a contest.
Listening Skill #8: Pause and Patience
Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions. When you don’t understand something, you should ask the speaker to explain it to you. But wait for a pause and gently ask your question. If you need to, lead with “Back up a second or let’s circle back, I didn’t understand what you just said about…”
Once the conversation is over, conclude with a quick recap. Make sure both parties understand any agreements, obligations or activities. Becoming a good listener involves paying attention, withholding judgment, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing and sharing. Good luck out there!