As I started writing this article, I looked at other related blog posts and found that I’ve written about listening skills more than any other topic this year. I guess I just won’t let go of the fact that, in my humble but correct opinion, listening is the most important communication skill of all.
Sure, we all know listening is important. But do we really pay attention to how important is really is? Let me put it this way – being a good listener can transform relationships and improve the quality of your life! I promise!
Why is that, you say? Well, first, listening makes sure that you understand what is being said without making assumptions or filling in the gaps during a listening lapse. And, second, when you really listen to someone to hear what they are saying, you make them feel appreciated, interesting, and respected. Isn’t that really what it’s all about anyway?
Here are 10 ways to become a better listener
1. Face the speaker. Sit up straight or lean forward slightly to show your attentiveness through body language. Your body language will say much more than your words — always.
2. Maintain eye contact. Of course, do that to the degree that you all remain comfortable (don’t be a creeper!). Don’t be distracted by anything. Don’t answer the phone, move away from the computer, and put down whatever you are doing.
3. Minimize internal distractions. If your own thoughts are pushing through, consciously let them go and re-focus your attention on the speaker. Note: this will take some practice! You will get better at focusing if you genuinely concentrate and train yourself to re-focus.
4. Focus only on what the speaker is saying. Try not to think about what you are going to say next, or how you will defend yourself. It’s okay to pause to think a minute before you respond. Research shows that, on average, we can hear four times faster than we can talk, so we have the ability to sort ideas as they come in…and be ready for more.
5. Respond appropriately. Show you understand by saying riveting things like “yeah”, “uh huh”, and “hmmm”. Murmur and nod. Raise your eyebrows. Say words such as “Really,” “Interesting,” as well as more direct prompts: “What did you do then?” and “What did she say?” For this to be helpful, you must be genuine in your reactions.
6. Keep an open mind. Wait until the speaker is finished before deciding that you disagree or believe what is being said. Try not to make assumptions about what the speaker is thinking, and for heaven’s sake, don’t interrupt!
7. Keep your great advice to yourself. Resist the urge to give advice or share your experiences. Assume they just need to talk it out. Unless you are specifically asked for advice, don’t give it.
8. Engage yourself. Ask questions for clarification, but, once again, wait until the speaker has finished. That way, you won’t interrupt their train of thought. After you ask questions, paraphrase their point to make sure you didn’t misunderstand. Start with: “So you’re saying…”, or “It sounds like….”
9. Be okay with silence. Silence is very engaging! Don’t worry if there is a natural pause in the conversation. Learn to settle into the silence and use it to better understand what is being said.
10. Say thank you first. Always thank the person you are listening to for sharing with you before you respond.
Ironically, as your listening skills improve, so will your aptitude for conversation. A friend of mine once complimented me on my conversational skills. I hadn’t said more than four words, but I had listened to her for over 20 minutes. Improve your listening skills and improve you conversations, relations, and okay, I’ll say it: improve your quality of life!
Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home.
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