How to Become a More Effective Listener

Being able to communicate effectively is an important skill to have  no matter what profession you are in; after all, it is widely considered to be a top quality in a person. Many schools offer  public speaking classes to help improve your speech, but there isn’t a whole lot of classes on how to improve your listening skills. Not being a good listener can extend the already long meetings at work and slow down the production of your team. Studies done by the InternaSONY DSCtional Listening Association shows that many of us have a hard time listening to others. Right after having a conversation with someone, we tend to only recall about 50% of what that person said. That percentage drops down even further to 20% when we have to remember what we actually heard.

Now there are a few reasons for why we aren’t the best listeners. We can only listen at a rate of about 125-250 words a minute, but our mind can race through over a thousand words a minute. This can cause us to be easily distracted by own thoughts even when we know that what we are hearing is important. How many times have you forgotten someone’s name in the same conversation where they met them?

There are numerous ways to improve upon your listening skills. The first tip probably comes off as common sense, but many of us are guilty of it: Stop waiting to talk when someone else is talking. We tend to tune others out when we start thinking about what we want to say next. A conversion shouldn’t be played out like the game Pong where each person just bounces off what the other said. In this conversion there is no real attempt to stop and understand what the other person is saying. Instead, it should be a game of catch: one person ‘throws’ (speaks) the information to another, the other person ‘catches’ it (receives the information) before he then grasps it and throws it back (understand it and speak back.) It sort of plays out like an imaginary ‘speaking ball’ that is passed around.

Here some other quick tips that can go a long way to improve your listening skills:

  • Body language is key! Nod your head, face the person you are talking to, give verbal cues (e.g. “uh-huh” or “hmm”), lean forward and express facial emotions. All of this shows the person you are talking that you are interested, and it also helps you stay focused.
  • Don’t forget to focus on their body language too. Pay attention to the tone of their voice and facial expressions to help get a sense of meaning behind the words
  • Be quiet and let the speaker finish his or her thoughts so you don’t miss any information. Restrain yourself!
  • Ask questions. Follow-up questions shows that you are interested in the conversation, and it can be very useful in trying to further understand what the speaker is actually saying. A lot of confusion can be cleared up with asking for clarification on what was said, or by summarizing what was previously said.
  • Silence can actually help you. It gives you time to think more about what is being said, and others tend to give more information that can help clarify what they said when they are met with silence.
  • Maintain eye contact. It keeps you focused on the speaker and not other distractions in the room.
  • Jot down some notes of what you want to say before a conversion. This way you don’t have think about when you are going to mention it. When one talking point comes to end, use you notes as a guide to the next one.

An effective leader must be able to listen to others or else they aren’t fully utilizing their resources. Improved listening habits can help problem solving skills and build relationships. Keep these tips in mind and practice them whenever you can. You won’t be disappointed with the results!