How To Develop Good Listening Skills
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“Are you listening to me?” you ask your spouse after spilling your guts about the terrible day you’ve had. “Are you listening to me?” you demand of your child, after it’s quite obvious he hasn’t heard a word of your lecture. “Are you listening to me?” you scream in your head when you realize no one at work is paying attention to the presentation you’ve work on all week. In these moments, we feel exhausted, angry, and hurt. But chronic disregard can lead to serious issues that impact public safety and health, private relationships, and personal growth.
As much as we want people to listen to us, we should also strive to become effective listeners. When you engage in active listening, fewer misunderstandings occur, which prevent frustration and save time. Active listening shows other people that you care what they have to say. When people perceive themselves as valuable to you, it may help to improve your relationships at work and at home. Most importantly, we need to listen, because we need to learn. Nobody discovers through talking.
How We Sabotage Our Conversations
Even with the best intentions, however, our minds wander to something more interesting (to us), and we become lost in the dialogue. Humans are ego-driven and easily-distracted. We are too consumed with our own thoughts—a rebuttal or a task we need to complete—to listen to others. We engage in biased listening, when we’ve already made up our minds about what the other person is going to say. We allow stereotypes to dictate our conversations. This type of “listening” leads to selective hearing, which destroys any chance for meaningful dialogue. When you hear what you already presume to know, then what is the point of having a conversation? It is only through evolving our perspectives that personal growth and improvement occurs. When we engage in partial, false, or biased listening, we alienate others and pose great risk to our development.
If you have a habit of interrupting others, you need to correct this habit. When you talk over others—including finishing their sentences—you show them that they are not important and that what you have to say takes precedence. This habit will damage your relationships, and it prevents any personal growth from occurring.
Telling someone about a similar experience may seem empathetic, but it only highlights the importance of your story. If you do this often, people will stop telling you things that are important to them. This mistake includes always having the last word.
Dominating the Conversation
It’s okay to control a conversation when someone asks about yourself, but if you find that you are the one doing all the talking, it may be time to close your mouth and open your ears. Conversations require two speakers.
Even if you don’t commit the mistakes above, you may be hurting yourself and others through inactive listening. It’s easy to “listen” to someone by not talking. Even if you are mindful of your habit to interrupt, most of the time you are so consumed with not interrupting that you’ve not heard a word the other person has said. Being mindful is simply not enough; you must begin to practice active listening and commit to this important aspect of personal growth and relational enhancement.
Strategies to Sharpen Your Listening Skills
To become a skilled listener, you need to improve the depth of your listening. Start with full listening—concentrating on the message the other person is trying to convey. Ask questions and re-summarize after the speaker has completed his or her thoughts. After correcting aspects of interrupting, one-up-manship, and conversation dominance, you can begin to work on deep listening.
Deep listening consists of listening for emotions, not just words. Pay attention to tone of voice, non-verbal cues, and the purpose of someone’s dialogue. Coming from a position of understanding will enhance your ability to acquire deep meaning from your conversations. You will learn more about human needs, including your own, which will make personal growth possible. It is through the understanding of others that you understand yourself.
Step 1: Make it a point to listen.
Instead of persuading someone else of your perspective during conversations, or bragging about your accomplishments, make it your goal to listen. Focus on what the other person is saying and practice patience. If you have a point you would like to discuss, bring it up later.
Step 2: Practice active listening through action.
Physical attention is necessary to demonstrate interest and to fully participate in the conversation.
· Make eye-contact
· Face the speaker
· Keep a positive posture
· Use non-verbal clues, like nodding
Step 3: Use emotions to your advantage.
Pay attention to the speaker’s eyes movements, stance and posture, as well as any hand gestures. Is the person excited, sad, or angry? By identifying their moods, you may be able to adjust your perspective. Conversations can be like dancing, and you must be able to follow your partner’s lead.
Step 4: Ask questions.
It’s okay to ask for clarification or to gather more information, but make sure to do so after the speaker has finished. Not only does this show interest, but it may lead to a breakthrough or “ah-ha” moment you didn’t expect.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Depth of listening. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://changingminds.org/techniques/listening/depth_listening.htm
Lopper, J. (n.d.). Effective Listening Skills for Personal Growth. Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://webs.anokaramsey.edu/widdel/ftp/b1121/Effective Listening Skills for Pers Growth.pdf