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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

More by this author

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 November 17, 2019

40 Amazing Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day

40 Amazing Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, starry-eyed lovers worldwide are getting ready to celebrate their love and planning the perfect date for their partner. However, there are many loving, caring, and generally great people out there who simply can’t think of a single romantic thing to do, let alone create the ultimate Valentine’s Day experience for their loved one. If you are looking for some great date ideas that will put a smile on your partner’s face and melt their heart, then just keep on reading. I’ve got a pretty big list of choices for you. Here are some great ideas ranging from tried and true classics, to the fun and slightly unconventional.

1. Rom-coms marathon

This is a very basic yet highly romantic way of spending the day with your partner. Take a few days to prepare the right playlist and create a romantic atmosphere at home. You can order out some food, open a bottle of wine and cuddle up in front of the TV.

2. Recreate your first date

Rated pretty high on the “romantic gestures scale,” this is guaranteed to impress your significant other. It requires a good memory and a bit of work to make it just right, but it is well worth it. Walk down the same streets where you first kissed and have a couple of drinks in that old coffee shop where you had your first drinks together. Don’t be afraid to spend a bit extra and add a little romantic gift into the mix.

3. Cook for your loved one

Start researching good recipes for a romantic dinner for two, get the right ingredients and prepare a couple of practice dinners to make sure you’ve got your technique and presentation down pat. Cooking for someone can be a big turn on and you can create some incredible meals without spending too much money. Take it up a notch by dressing classy, decorating your dining room and presenting your partner with a printed menu.

4. Organize your very own ancient Greek party

Here’s another one of those creative date ideas for the stay-at-home couple. The ancient Greek private party can be a very fun and erotic experience. You can decorate by using big bowls full of grapes, spreading some white sheets all over the place, placing some plastic vines here and there, putting up a few posters depicting Greek parties and having plenty of wine lying around. Wear nothing but light sheets or costumes and channel some of that hot-blooded Greek spirit.

5. A romantic weekend getaway in the mountains

For those looking for a change of scenery and an escape from the busy city, there is nothing better than a quiet, romantic weekend in the mountains. There are plenty of fun activities like skiing that will keep you active. You can have fun making a snowman or engaging in a snowball fight, and, of course, there is plenty of privacy and great room service waiting for you back at your room.

6. Fun day at the shooting range

A bit unconventional but an incredibly fun and exciting date that will get your blood pumping and put a huge smile on your faces. Try out a number of guns and have a bit of a competition. Some outdoor ranges have fully automatic rifles, which are a blast to shoot.

7. Rent an expensive sports car for a day

Don’t be afraid to live large from time to time—even if you can’t afford the glamorous lifestyle of the stars, you can most definitely play pretend for a day. Put on some classy clothes and drive around town in a rented sports car. The quick acceleration and high speed are sure to provide an exhilarating experience.

8. Go on a shopping spree together

Very few things can elicit such a huge dopamine rush as a good old shopping spree. Get some new lingerie, pretty shoes, a nice shirt and tie, a couple of new video games or whatever else you need or want. This is a unique chance to bond, have fun and get some stuff that you’ve been waiting to buy for a while now.

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9. Hit the clubs

For all the party animals out there, one of the best date ideas is to go out drinking, dancing, and just generally enjoying the night life. Visit a few good clubs, then go to an after-party and keep that party spirit going for as long as you can.

10. Spend the day driving around the city and visiting new places

This one is geared towards couples who have been together for a year or two and want to experience a few new things together. Visit a few cool coffee places on the other side of town, check out interesting restaurants you’ve never been to, and consider going to see a play or having fun at a comedy club on open mic night.

11. Wine and chocolates at sunset

Pick out a romantic location, such as a camping spot on a hill overlooking the city or a balcony in a restaurant with a nice view, open a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates and wait for that perfect moment when the sky turns fiery red to embrace and share a passionate kiss.

12. Ice skating

There is something incredibly fun about ice skating that brings people closer together and just keeps you laughing (maybe it’s all the falling and clinging to the other person for dear life). You can have some great fun and then move on to a more private location for some alone time.

13. Body painting

Speaking of private locations and intimate moments, body painting allows you to spice things up back at your place and add a new element of fun to foreplay. You’ll need adequate body paints and some brushes and the rest is up to you. You can do tiger stripes, paint a t-shirt on your partner, or go for something more abstract—the choice is yours.

14. Model clothes for each other

This one goes well when combined with a shopping spree, but you can just get a bunch of your clothes—old and new—from the closet, set up a catwalk area and then try on different combinations. You can be stylish, funny or beautiful. It’s a great after-dinner show and a good way to transition into a more intimate atmosphere.

15. Dance the night away

If you and your significant other are relatively good dancers, or if you simply enjoy moving your body to the rhythm of the music, then a night at salsa club or similar venue is the perfect thing for you. Alternatively, you can set up dance floor at home, play your favorite music, have a few drinks and dance like there is no tomorrow.

16. Lock the doors, turn off the phones and have the whole house to yourselves

This one might seem a bit obvious and kind of redundant seeing as how I’ve already mentioned a bunch of stay-at-home date ideas that require this step as a prerequisite, but when I say, “Have the whole house to yourselves,” I literally mean turning the whole house into romantic stage where you can explore your fantasies. Decorate each room a bit differently, have a lot of snacks and drinks lying around, put a bunch of blankets and pillows on the floor and go from room to room throughout the day. You can start off with a steaming shower, have a romantic meal, then watch a movie cuddled up on the couch and eventually make your way to the bedroom.

17. Organize a nature walk

Being outside has many health benefits, but what you are going for is the beautiful view, seclusion, and the thrill of engaging in some erotic behavior out in the open. You can rent a cottage far from the city, bring some food and drinks, and explore the wilderness. This is nice way to spice things up a bit and get away from the loud and busy city life.

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18. Act out a fun scenario wearing costumes

Some role-playing may be just the thing you need to spice up your love life after a few years of being together, but it can be a very fun experience for new couples as well. Work on the scenario together (wounded soldier and nurse, a female cop arresting a robber, etc.), buy the right costumes and accessories beforehand and find a good setting. You could also rent a hotel room to add to the forbidden-fruit vibe.

19. Travel abroad

This takes a bit of planning in advance and may be a bit costly, but if you can afford it, there are very few things that can match a trip to France, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, or a number of other excellent locations.

20. Go on a hot-air balloon ride

These are very fun and romantic—you get an incredible view, get to experience the thrill of flying, and you’ve got enough room for a romantic dinner and some champagne. Just be sure to wear warm clothes, it can get pretty cold high up in the air.

21. A relaxing day at the spa

Treat your body, mind and senses to a relaxing day at the spa. You and your partner will feel fresh, comfortable and relaxed—a perfect date for the more serious couples who don’t get to spend as much time with each other as they’d like.

22. A trip down memory lane

This one is great for long-term couples who will benefit from reminiscing about all of their fondest memories together from the start of the relationship through to the present, reliving some of the most significant moments they shared.

23. Fun times at a karaoke bar

A great choice for couples celebrating their first Valentine’s Day together—it’s fairly informal and inexpensive, yet incredibly fun and allows for deeper bonding. Once you have a few drinks in your system and come to terms with the fact that you are making a complete fool of yourself, you’ll have the time of your life!

24. Helicopter tour of the city followed by dinner

A modern equivalent to the hot-air balloon ride, the helicopter tour is among the more reasonably priced date ideas and is incredibly romantic and exciting. After about half an hour or an hour of sightseeing you can finish off the upper-class experience by dining in a nice restaurant.

25. Horseback riding

Horseback riding is incredibly fun, especially if you’ve never done it before. And what girl doesn’t dream of a prince coming to take her on an adventure on his noble steed? It evokes a sense of nobility and is a very good bonding experience.

26. Plan a fun date night with other couples

Take a break and rent a cabin in the woods, go to a mountain resort, a couple’s retreat, or just organize a huge date night at someone’s place and hang out with other couples. This is a great option for couples who have spent at least one Valentine’s Day together and allows you to customize your experience to suit your needs. Also, you can always retire early and get some alone time with your partner if you so desire.

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27. Cocktail night

This can be done privately, or with other couples if you are organizing a group Valentine’s Day celebration at someone’s house. All you need is a bunch of different drinks, a few accessories like fruit and spices, and internet access to check out some cool recipes online. Try out all sorts of fun cocktails and mix some brand new ones on your own. Make it a fancy dress night for added fun.

28. Make reservations at an exclusive restaurant

A fairly old school move, except this time you can pick out a restaurant that serves a particular type of cuisine you’ve never tried before. Go for a place that has unusual menus and likes to make a show out of presenting the food, rather than just going for your regular “suits and monocles” type venue.

29. Go to a concert

There are a whole bunch of things happening around Valentine’s Day, so go online and check out what’s happening near you. You’ll surely be able to find tickets for a cool concert or some type of festival with live music.

30. Fancy night on the town

Buy some elegant new clothes, rent a limo for the night and go to a nice restaurant, followed by a jazz club or gallery exhibition. Walk tall, make a few sarcastic quips, and have a few laughs with your partner while letting your inner snob take charge for a few hours.

31. Take a tour of the historical and cultural sites of your city

For the cultured crowd and history buffs among us, a day spent learning about some of the local history and delving deeper into national culture is both incredibly fun and a great way to share a unique experience with a loved one. You’d be surprised to find just how much you don’t know about the place you live in.

32. Live out a James Bond film at a casino

A beautiful lady in a simple yet sensual, form-fitting, black dress, and a strong and handsome, if somewhat stern-looking man in a fine suit walk up to a roulette table with drinks in hand and place bets at random as they smile at each other seductively. This is a scenario most of us wish to play out, but rarely get a chance. It can be a bit costly, but this is one of the most incredibly adventurous and romantic date ideas.

33. Go bungee jumping

People in long-term relationships often talk about things like keeping a relationship fun and exciting, doing new things together, trusting each other and using aphrodisiacs. Well, bungee jumping is a fun, exhilarating activity you can both enjoy; it requires trust and the adrenaline rush you get from it is better than any aphrodisiac out there. Just saying, give it a shot and you won’t regret it.

34. Take a tour of a winery or brewery

Taking a tour like this can be a great opportunity to learn new things about wine or beer (or perhaps whiskey) and how it is made, while at the same time getting a chance to taste some excellent drinks and get a few bottles for later in the evening.

35. Make a fun music video

Meet up earlier in the day, take decent camera, and start shooting a music video. Rehearse the lyrics (you can even make up your own silly song), dress up, and start filming. You’ll have tons of fun doing it and you can edit the video later and have a cool memento.

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36. Play some sports

Some one-on-one basketball, a soccer match against another couple, a bit of tennis, or even something as simple as a table tennis tournament (make it fun by stripping off items of clothing when you lose a game). You can combine this with date idea #13 and paint team uniforms on each other and play in the nude.

37. Visit a club with live music

A great option for just about any couple—pick a club that has live performers (whether it’s jazz, rock or even a poetry reading) and dress up for the occasion. Be sure to make reservations in advance to avoid the Valentine’s Day rush, and focus on making your date feel comfortable.

38. Take skydiving lessons

Another adrenaline-filled date, skydiving is sure to get your heart racing like crazy and leave you with a goofy grin for the rest of the day. You can offset all the excitement by ending the day with a quiet dinner at home.

39. Go for some paintball

Playing war games is an excellent way to get your body moving, focus on some of that hand-eye-coordination, and engage your brain in coming up with tactical solutions in the heat of the moment. It is also a great bonding experience, adrenaline-fueled fun, and role-playing all wrapped into one. And when you get back home, you can always act out the wounded soldier scenario (see #18).

40. Fill the whole day with random fun activities

Just say no to plans, reservations and clichés—take your partner by the hand, have your credit card ready and just go out and have some fun. Bowling, followed by a drink at a coffee shop and then a romantic movie? Sure, why not? Going for lunch at a nice restaurant and then organizing a double-date game night? Go right ahead. Going for a long walk in the park, visiting a museum, followed by romantic meal at home and then going out to a club? Hey, who am I to say no? You can use some of the ideas from this article and mash them up together to create a fun-filled Valentine’s Day you’ll both remember.

There you go, a whole bunch of useful date ideas for all you loving couples out there. You can pick out any one of these, make some adjustments or even combine different options to create the perfect Valentine’s Day date for your significant other. Plan ahead, have fun and celebrate your love proudly.

Featured photo credit: Relevante design via unsplash.com

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