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Published on August 27, 2018

13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

Listening is probably one of the most underrated leadership and business skills. We all know listening is a critical component of our work, but not everyone invests the time necessary to become a better listener.

Even when we work to become better listeners, we live in an age of perpetual distractions. From ever-growing to-do lists to a burning desire to remain relevant to social media and advances in technology, there are myriad factors that make deep listening a challenge.

When I was coming of age, the only advice doled out about listening was to make good eye contact with the speaker and lean in. The thinking was that leaning in while a person was speaking would enhance understanding and give the impression that you were practicing deep listening.

However, hearing what an individual is communicating involves so much more than what we do with our bodies. Sure, our body language is critical, but it represents one piece, not the whole. Active listening requires several steps:

1. Listen with the intention to understand.

This is a key component of active listening. When you listen with the intention to understand, you listen with an open-mind, versus a prejudged conclusion.

When you communicate with the intention to understand, you ask appropriately timed questions (as opposed to interrupting to share a different story) to ensure that the messages you’re receiving is the one the speaker intends.

Listening with the intention to understand means going into a conversation with a genuine interest in grasping what the speaker is communicating and being mindful to take in all cues from the conversation, such as verbal, nonverbal and what is spoken openly versus left unsaid.

2. Use interruptions sparingly.

When practicing active listening, it’s important to use interruptions sparingly. Allow the speaker to communicate an entire thought before interrupting with questions or your interpretation of what he or she said.

So many times, others’ comments will spark thoughts and we’ll interrupt them. However, if we aren’t careful, interruptions can communicate, “Hey, I know more than you,” or worse, “You’re taking too long to get to the point and I don’t have time to listen to what you have to say.”

If people feel they aren’t or haven’t been heard, they may struggle to establish a trusting relationship with you.

3. Process what you’ve heard.

Processing what you are hearing is all about asking yourself whether your own perspective is unduly shaping what the other person is saying. It is about being honest enough to know whether you are adding context to what someone else is communicating.

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For instance, several weeks ago, I had an important dinner meeting with two business associates. I spent a great deal of time styling my hair and ensuring that I was polished and presentable. When I walked into the dinner, my associate said, “oh, your hair has a 1960s look.”

This was not the style I was going for.

I immediately heard, “Your hair is ugly.” For a few minutes during the dinner, I thought about what the person was saying and compared that to what I heard, which was shaped by my own insecurities about the hairstyle in question. In the end, I chalked up the difference in communication to me being overly sensitive.

Had I not processed the conversation, I very well may have remained stuck in my head or treated my colleague differently based on what I initially heard as an insult.

4. Repeat back.

Just because two people are in a conversation does not mean both parties hear the same thing. We each bring our own weltanschauung, which is German for “world view,” to conversations, and this shapes what and how we hear.

If you are a manager, you have likely been in a situation where you assign a project to an employee and anticipate its completion. Once finished, you are mystified to learn that your employee did an excellent job on something you never requested or needed.

Repeat backs are an excellent tool to enhance understanding, communicate your interest in the person speaking and ensure that you heard what the other person intended.

Repeat backs work best in one-on-one or small group discussions. If you’re in a lecture or a large event, you may not have the opportunity to repeat back what you have heard. However, if you’re in a work setting or meeting with a family member or friend, practice repeating back what you have heard and asking the speaker if you correctly captured what he or she said.

The way it works is simple: You listen to a conversation and try to capture as much of it as possible.

When the person you are speaking with finishes his or her remarks, ask if it’s OK for you to repeat back what you heard the individual say. Then give highlights of the conversation that convey your understanding. This is great for you and affirming for the speaker.

5. Limit distractions.

From cellphones and social media to simultaneous conversations to the television or music apps, at any given time myriad items are competing for our attention.

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If you are in a conversation, try to limit distractions. Practice focusing on one thing when someone is speaking with you, and that’s the person talking. While most people believe they are capable of multitasking, research indicate that no one does it well.

David Sanbonmatsu, a University of Utah psychology professor and lead author of a research study on distraction says:

“People don’t multitask because they’re good at it. They do it because they are more distracted.”

In other words, they have so much going on that they feel forced to do more than one thing at a time. The result is poor listening skills.

The next time you are in a conversation, limit the distractions around you. Place the phone out of reach, silence or tune out the television, and for the next several minutes, focus exclusively on the person you are in communication with.

Even if you believe you can do more than one thing well, think about whether the person speaking to you believes he or she has your full attention. If the individual does not believe you are listening fully, you may throw off the person’s train of thought while he or she expends energy thinking about how to capture your complete attention.

For instance, in my profession, I am constantly in the position of presenting to multiple people at a time. When I am speaking to an individual or a group, I find that I have a hard time staying focused on my remarks if the individuals I am speaking with are staring at their computer or cellphone.

6. Make good eye contact.

I have heard plenty of people say they are listening even though their eyes are on other items rather than the speaker. Active listening is about listening with all our body and senses.

To improve or enhance your listening skills, look at the person who is speaking. Make good eye contact with the individual throughout his or her remarks. This allows you to take in the words the person is saying as well as the individual’s facial expressions and gestures.

I promise you, it is impossible to not glean something from the conversation when you stay tuned in to the speaker.

7. Lean in.

Before Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, I was taught that leaning in was an excellent way to signal to a speaker that I was listening to what he or she was saying.

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To communicate to teachers, colleagues and advisers that I was listening to what they were saying, I learned to use both my ears and my body.

I also learned early that if I was tired or otherwise limited in being fully present, leaning in would give me the bolt of energy necessary to be a better listener.

I relish this advice still to this day. When I am in a conversation and I am particularly interested in what someone is saying, I will lean in as if the two of us are seated next to or across from one another.

If I am standing next to the speaker, I will stand close enough to the person to communicate that I am interested in the conversation and in the individual.

8. Ask clarifying questions.

To ensure you are hearing what the other person is saying, check in with the person when he or she is finished speaking with phrases and questions such as “What I’m hearing you say is …” or “Based on what you just said, is it safe to assume that ….”

You may also ask the person, “Where can I go to learn more about that?” Also, if after hearing a person out completely, you still don’t understand what the individual was saying, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t understand. Can you elaborate?”

9. Get curious.

Some of the best discoveries have been made because an innovator became curious. While curiosity is a blessing in innovation, it’s also helpful in listening.

When you become curious, you are eager for more information. You pay attention to the subtleties and the blatant messages. Even when the conversation ends, the curious mind continues to process what you have heard.

10. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

It is difficult but necessary to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is required if you want to be an active listener.

To be an active listener is to temporarily imagine you are walking the other person’s path and feeling what that individual feels. Active listening is about developing empathy for the person speaking.

When you imagine confronting life through the speaker’s lens, it will be easier to listen with interest.

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11. Suspend judgment.

To practice active listening, you must suspend judgment.

When you sit in a place of judgment, you draw predetermined conclusions. During a conversation, you are then listening to find information that supports the conclusion you have already reached.

When this happens, it is difficult to really hear what another person is saying. It is almost as if you are playing bingo and you are listening only for the words on your bingo sheet.

Anything else is a distraction because you are on a mission. Suspending judgment doesn’t mean you listen without discernment. It means you listen for the possibility of being wrong. It means you listen with an open mind.

It is impossible to practice deep listening without a willingness to suspend judgment.

12. Take notes.

One way to keep from interrupting a person when they are speaking is taking notes.

Notes allow you to retain your own thoughts, while noting areas for follow-up with the speaker. They also communicate to the person you are speaking with that you are listening to what they are saying.

13. Give up the need to be right.

When you are committed to winning an argument, you enter the conversation fully invested in winning. You actually aren’t capable of hearing what the other person says because you are persuaded that you are right.

However, active listening requires giving up the need to be right. You will be surprised how much you are able to actually hear the other party when you are not vested in having your way.

While I know the distractions facing you won’t evaporate overnight, you are stronger than every distraction you face.

With practice and tools, you can become a better listener. Your family, friends and colleagues will thank you for it. And who knows, maybe they will be inspired by you and work to become better listeners themselves.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Jennifer R. Farmer

An author and public relations expert specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

3 Keys to Success in Life (That Will Change You in 2019)

3 Keys to Success in Life (That Will Change You in 2019)

Do you want to program your mind and hack your body to stay in a positive state, a state of action taking throughout the day? I suggest you read on.

We will look at 3 keys to success that successful people are doing that you can model to program your mind to be in the state of succeeding from the moment upon waking, and make decisions throughout the day that will lead you towards your desires.

The Biggest Obstacle to Success: Going on Autopilot

One of the biggest pitfalls in the modern society is to fall into the trap of going on autopilot, to be walking dead and do what everyone else are doing. Most of us are too busy reacting and responding to the environment and what’s happening around us.

While we should act and take charge of our own world and our own reality. We forget to stay focused and we forget about our goals.

Learn to be conscious. Being more conscious in your day-to-day decisions will lead you to take the appropriate actions to reach your goals.

Have a purpose with life, act according to your values, and don’t let people tell you what to do or how things should be.

When you start to make more conscious decisions, you will start to think about if this is going to take you closer to your goals or drift you further away.

Why are you doing what you’re doing right now? Why are you reading this? Nothing else to do? Or are you reading this site so you might pick up a thing or two to consciously incorporate in your life to improve yourself that will move you in the direction you want?

What are your goals? Be healthy? Lose weight? Be fit? Get the dream job? Have the dream house? Live the dream life? Make a certain amount of money? Start a family?

If you truly want to pursue these goals and actually see them come true, you need to start taking actions consciously.

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3 Keys to Success in Life (That You Can Start Doing Now)

There are 3 things we have to consciously start doing:

    Now I’ll show you how you can achieve each of them in details.

    1. Write down Your Goals

    The first thing you do in the morning will determine what your day is going to be like. Program your mind to be in a powerful state from the moment upon waking, and you are guaranteed to have a productive and great day.

    How you can do this is by writing your goals down, every morning. Then, once you’ve done that, circle the most important goal,  the goal that in the long-term will have the most impact on your life.

    Now ask yourself this question: “What actions can I make today that will change everything and take me closer to this goal?

    Write down all the actions you can think of, circle the two most important ones and start doing them. Don’t stop until it’s done.

    This is an extremely powerful method of getting in the right state first thing in the morning. Instead of wandering around half-dead and spending 30 minutes to wake up, you are hacking your mind to be productive.

    Another powerful reason for writing down your goals is that by reading them it makes us feel good, write them as if they’re already accomplished. You’re already there.

    Re-reading and re-writing them every morning will ensure you to be in a resourceful state where you act based on your goals. You will make conscious decisions throughout the day that will support your goals and take you closer to them.

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    Goals that are not written down are merely wishes. Learn how to set great goals here: How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life

    The power of writing goals as if you’re already there takes us to point number 2.

    2. Create a Powerful Belief System

    Ask any successful person what their number one rule for succeeding is. They all have this in common:

    They believe in themselves and what they’re doing, and they are not afraid to say it.

    If you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone else?

    When people ask you about your goals in life, don’t be afraid to say it out loud. If you have high goals, they might laugh and look at you funny. But if you’re insecure about your goals, you will make insecure decisions that will lead you nowhere.

    Go against the grain, stand out. After all, how many people in the world today are actually living the dream? Now, how many of these people will respond something in the likes of “I don’t know” if you ask what their goals are?

    Be determined and believe in yourself. People will respect you for having the guts for going after what you truly desire.

    I once heard a story about a guy that worked in a video store. Every day he would bring two magazines to work, one was an entrepreneur magazine and the other was a magazine loaded with expensive and fast-riding cars. His boss would ask him why he was bringing these magazines to work every day and his answer was: “I’m picking out the car I’m going to buy.”

    The response from the boss was like most average minds saying he was killing himself thinking like that, he would never ever get that car and would just end up disappointed when it never happened.

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    Turned out, the guy later quit the job at the video store and followed his dream. Some years later he return to the video store to return a video, and he did so in the car he picked out from the magazine.

    The same people were working in the store as the day he used to work there. Now can you imagine the looks on their faces when he turned up in the car they said he never ever would get?

    Priceless. And it all started by creating a powerful belief system.

    The first step to living and achieving your dream is to believe it and imagine it. When you believe in your mind that you’ve already achieved your goals, you will develop a sense of certainty. That certainty will lead to action steps, when you know what the outcome is going to be it’s much easier to pick out the actions that are necessary to get there.

    You are certain you will live in the body you want.

    You are certain you will live in the dream house with the dream family.

    You are certain you will have the job you want, and earn the money you believe you’re worth.

    By constantly repeating in your mind the images of yourself succeeding, you create neural pathways in the brain. Your mind can’t tell the difference between what you vividly imagine and the reality.

    Go out and day dream. Go out and believe, imagine already living your dreams and goals. With enough repetition, you become certain that this is the only outcome and you work backwards to find ways for making it happen.

    The next step in personal success that will lead to life success and happiness is to..

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    3. Invest in Yourself

    A wise man was once asked what the best possible investment someone could make. His answer was short, sweet and simple: “Invest In Yourself.”

    The man’s name is Warren Buffett. He is known as the world’s greatest investor. According to Forbes, he has a net worth of $53.5 Billion.

    Hiring a personal coach, getting a membership at a gym, buying healthy foods, books and education are not expenses. They are investments: investments in yourself.

    Some things you can do today to invest in yourself are:

    • Go to the gym and train. Physical training releases endorphins and makes you feel great. It increases productivity and energy levels. By investing time in the gym, you’ll be better able to handle daily tasks and what life throws at you. Forty-five to fifty minutes is all you need, it’s actually the best time to shoot for in a workout.
    • Eat good food. When you go to the grocery store after work, ask yourself: “What foods will nourish my mind and body to feel and perform better?” You are setting yourself up for greatness and consciously making yourself aware of what foods will empower you, therefore make better decisions.
    • Start reading books. Everyone buys books, but very few actually reads them cover to cover.
    • Stop reading books and start studying them. Few read the books they buy, but even fewer remembers what they read. Stop reading books and start studying books.
    • Study at least one hour a day. “One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.” – Brian Tracy
    • Take notes. Never leave home without a pen and a piece of paper. The best ideas often comes in the least appropriate times, write them down. Don’t trust your mind to remember them—it won’t. Writing it down right away will also allow your mind to store and come up with more ideas. Nowadays, you can use plenty of notes-taking apps like Evernote.
    • Learn a new skill. Learn something new every day, a new skill or a new word. One new skill every day equals 365 new skills a year. Now imagine where you could be a year from now if you start doing it today?
    • Do something for yourself. Yes, hard work is a major factor for succeeding, but at least once per month do something fun, something outrageous and spontaneous that makes you feel alive. Have fun and enjoy yourself.

    The Crucial Rule to Follow

    The last piece of advice and rule to follow: Keep on, keeping on.

    Sometimes, things get hard and the road seems too long. You just have to keep on, keeping on.

    Revisit your goals and start imagining, all of the sudden you’ve changed your state and you’re on the right track again. The track that will take you to greatness.

    Use these 3 keys to create your destiny and achieve what you want in life.

    Go get it.

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    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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