Most people would indicate that they have excellent communication skills. Americans, and people in general, love to hear themselves talk. Basically, all of us want to be heard! The question is, with all the people talking, who is really listening to what is actually being said?
Here are some tips to developing better and effective listening skills:
Effective Listening Skills
1. Repeat what is said to you. When someone is telling you a story or has information that is important to them to share with you, repeat what they have said. This will not only show them you were listening, but it will also ensure that you remember what was said to you later.
2. Write it down. If you are in a classroom, an interview, or on a sales call, one of the most effective ways to listen is to write down what one is saying. Make sure they know you are going to take notes, and then take out your notebook and pen to get started. You would be amazed at how much you will remember of the conversation if you just write it down!
3. Maintain eye contact and provide non-verbal cues. One of the keys to listening is to pay attention to the speaker. Maintain eye contact and acknowledge what they are saying as they are saying it. Again, one way to ensure you have heard them is to say something like: “So, (Susie), if I understand you correctly, you want…(insert what they have just said to you here).” This will keep both you and the speaker on track and focused on the conversation.
4. Avoid outside distractions. If someone wants to talk with you, whether business or personal in nature, turn off your phone, turn off your radio, turn off your TV, and make sure you are both comfortable. In an office setting, make sure you are behind closed doors, and that outsiders know that you are in a meeting in which you cannot be disturbed. Avoid meetings in your office, where your email can become a huge distraction.
5. Listen from the heart. Empathy for the individual speaking is another critical factor in developing effective listening skills. If you listen with your heart and not your head, you will listen more clearly, because you won’t be thinking about yourself.
6. Practice, practice, practice. Every time someone speaks to you, practice your listening skills. Don’t wait for “important” conversations. You can’t determine which conversations are important to the other individual and which are not. Practicing effective listening skills with every conversation is critical to deepening relationships and becoming known as an empathetic listener.
7. Mirror body language. If the person with whom you are engaging in conversation is sitting back, cross-legged, with arms folded in their lap, it is important that you mirror a similar image in your own body language. This will subconsciously indicate to them that you are listening to them, and will put their mind at ease in being able to speak openly and honestly with you.
8. Ask clarifying questions. If in listening to someone speak, there are points which are not clear, ask questions. Don’t berate them, but ask questions that will show them that you are paying attention and are truly interested in the topic in which they are discussing.
Overall, effective listening starts with you. To become an effective listener, open your ears, shut your mouth, and open your heart. Once you start truly listening to what people are saying vs. simply hearing them, you will likely learn a lot about yourself in the process.