Learning to improve your listening skills is a practice that should go on forever. You can always become a better listener and here is how.
How To Improve Listening Skills
Every single day, there are a lot of words being said. Whether it is on the news, from the schools, from your neighbors, or your immediate family members, everyone has something to say.
We spend a lot of time expecting our children to listen. We ask them to clean their rooms, do their chores, complete their homework and we get frustrated when they haven’t complied. Have you given much thought to how much you listen now that you are an adult?
Looking to improve your listening skills is something that each and every one of us may want to check into. In order to be a good steward of other people’s feelings, it’s time to figure out if we are really listening when we think we are.
Refrain from Judgement
While someone else is speaking, you may have thoughts, opinions, or judgements enter your mind. That is completely normal – we all do it. But that doesn’t mean that you have to listen to yourself and burst into the middle of a conversation.
Hold onto your own thoughts and be an active listener in that moment. The other person has a point, whether you agree with it or not. If it is someone you respect, give them the respect of making a conscious effort to honor their opinions and listen.
When we practice active listening skills instead of waiting for our turn to talk, we are allowing for better communication. And if your best friend/partner/neighbor/family member knows that you are really trying to hear them with an open mind and you can get through the conversation without spilling any hasty opinions (that may or may not have to do with the exact topic, so watch yourself!), you’re bound to have a better connection – and have your opinions better heard by them as well.
One very important thing to remember is to pay attention to your non-verbal cues. Just because you aren’t using words doesn’t mean that you don’t have bad habits when it comes to your facial expressions. The easiest way to correct this is to pay attention to your body. Consciously sit with an open posture and focus in on your friend. Hopefully, your body will get the message.
Leave Advice at the Door
Sometimes people just need to vent. They need to get their feelings and concerns out of their bodies as a means of simply maintaining their sanity. You know – I’m sure you do it yourself. It feels good! And in these times where your friend is venting, you need to be the recipient of the information, not a commentator.
Different people express themselves in different ways, so unless you’ve received the complete message and you know what they are looking for, give them a little time to vent.
If you are listening to someone and they haven’t asked for your advice, don’t give it. We all need to know that we have a safe space in which to let our emotions and concerns out without having to discuss them at length with someone who suddenly has an opinion. Be a shoulder. If someone wants your advice, they will ask.
If you feel that the issue they are discussing is a common problem, ask some open-ended questions or mention a similar experience that might help them come to a reasonable conclusion. But your job isn’t to resolve conflicts in their life. One of the most powerful ways you can be there for them is by saying nothing and listening.
When you are listening to someone, you need to put everything away and give your undivided attention
to that person. If they walk in while you are doing something and start talking, give them a time frame and explain yourself. “Let me finish this one thing so that I can give you all of my attention. I want to hear what you have to say without distraction.”
When that moment comes, put away any cell phones, give them eye contact, pay close attention, and be an effective listener. Give them all of the nonverbal cues that you are ready.
This is a great way to not only let the other person know that you want to have effective communication and be there for them, but that if they can give you a moment to finish what you need to, you are all in for them. This time and next time.
You know how it feels when you are trying to talk to someone and they are playing on their phone or watching the ballgame. It doesn’t feel great. Give the other person the time, love, and attention that you would want for yourself.
Restate What You Hear
One of the best active listening techniques that we can use is to restate what someone else has been saying. Letting someone know that you’ve been an attentive listener is not only the best way to let them know you have heard them, but it is a way to let them know you care.
Try to use key words that they used and ask for additional information if you need a clearer understanding of something. As much time as we spend venting, we don’t realize that sometimes the main idea is clear in our head, but not as clear when we’re explaining it to someone else.
Sum up the important points and try to provide some new words if you think that could help broaden the topic or the issue. If your friend is trying to figure out how to solve a problem, helping them reframe it with different words can be an important part of their progress.
Focus on Key Points
When we speak, we often include a lot of details. Don’t get stuck on listening to and critiquing the details of what someone is saying. If they say, “We met at 10:15 and the car broke down,” pay attention to the part where the car broke down, even if you know that they met at 10:30. It has nothing to do with the central ideas of the story, so let it go.
Focusing on the extraneous details is an easy way to move a conversation off-topic and make someone feel unheard. Be a better listener by deciding what pieces of the story are important information and which you can let go of immediately. The other person wants to be heard, so remaining focused on the main points of the beginning, middle, and end will help you accomplish that goal.
Empathy is a key component when trying to build effective listening skills. Do what you can to put yourself in someone else’s shoes as they are speaking. Try to take in what they are feeling – not in the context of your life with your beliefs and expectations, but in the context of theirs. Take a few small steps to try to truly see their point of view.
Let go of the instant replies that pop into your head. We all have our struggles and we’ve all been through challenges. It is a gift to have someone share their honest and raw feelings with you, despite what you may be thinking or have gone through yourself. When we can truly put ourselves in other people’s shoes, we allow ourselves to grow.
Avoid Critical Comments
Part of the art of listening is learning what not to say. When responding to someone in a conversation, try to be as positive and open as possible. Any type of criticism is going to make your friend withdraw from speaking much further (or openly), so decide what your goal is.
If your goal is to communicate effectively and be a good listener, do that. Be that. If your goal is to win a conversation, understand that this short-term goal may feel good in the moment, but it may have negative long time consequences for your relationship.
We all want to be heard and seen by other people, so it is time to learn that silence is a great source of strength. Your silence and attention may be all someone needs in order to feel a connection with you. Be genuine, stay open and really be in the moment with someone so that both you and they know that you are really listening and not just hearing.