Advertising

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

Advertising
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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

Jennifer R. Farmer

An author and trainer specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

How to Influence People and Make Them Feel Good How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively in Any Situation How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated 5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You) 16 Good Habits of Happy and Successful People

Trending in Social Animal

1 How to Use the Law of Reciprocity for Effective Persuasion 2 What Will Happen When You Surround Yourself With Positive People? 3 How to Surround Yourself With Positive People 4 How to Create Social Goals to Make an Impact in the World 5 The Lifehack Show: Improving Social Skills with Dr. Daniel Wendler

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 24, 2022

21 Best Tips On Making A Long Distance Relationship Work

Advertising
21 Best Tips On Making A Long Distance Relationship Work

Having texting and video conferencing at our fingertips, it appears that maintaining a long-distance relationship is easier than ever. Long-distance calls are no longer a luxury; the days when they needed to be rationed are long gone.

Long-distance couples do not have to depend on 3 p.m. postal delivery, waiting for news that is at best four days old.

Now we’re no longer even in the days of waiting for our loved ones to check their e-mail when they get home from work. Instant messaging keeps us hooked to each other even when we are out shopping, working, playing, watching a movie and doing much more.

Technology, however, cannot compensate for everything in a long-distance relationship, as anyone with a long-distance relationship will tell you.

Many long-distance relationships still seem emotionally difficult despite the lack of regular physical proximity.

People often think long-distance relationships will never work. It may be discouraged by your family, and some of your best friends may tell you not to take it too seriously in case you end up heartbroken.

Many things are not possible due to the extra distance – no one can promise it will be easy. Things could get complicated, and you might feel lonely and sad at times.

Still, many of us try them.

Video Summary

However, the extra distance also makes the simplest things the sweetest. Being able to hold the other person’s hand, eating together at the same table, feeling each other’s touch, taking a walk together, smelling each other’s hair… these small wishes could suddenly mean so much more in a long-distance relationship.

Long-distance relationships may be tough, but they have their own surprises too.

Here’re 21 tips on how to make a long distance relationship work:

1. Avoid excessive communication.

It is unwise to be overly “sticky” and possessive. You two don’t really have to communicate 12 hours a day to keep the relationship going. Many couples think that they need to compensate for the distance by doing more. This is not true. And it might only make things worse. Soon you would get tired of “loving.”

Remember: Less is more. It is not about spamming — you are only going to exhaust yourselves. It’s really about teasing at the right moments and tugging at the right spots.

Advertising

2. See it as an opportunity.

“If you want to live together, you first need to learn how to live apart.” – Anonymous

View it as a learning journey for both of you. This is an opportunity for you to prove your love for one another. According to a Chinese proverb, “Real gold is not afraid of the test of fire.” Instead of thinking that this long-distance relationship is pulling you two apart, you should believe that through this experience, the both of you will be bound together even stronger.

As Emma says it to Will in season four of Glee,

“I would rather be here, far from you, but feeling really close, rather than close to you but feeling really far away.” – Emma, Glee Season 4

3. Set some ground rules to manage your expectations.

Both of you need to be clear with what you expect of each other during this long-distance relationship. Set some ground rules so that none of you will do things that will take the other party by surprise.

For instance, are you two exclusive? Is it all right for the other person to go on dates? What is your commitment level? It’s better to be open with each other about all these things.

4. Try to communicate regularly, and creatively.

Greet each other “good morning” and “good night” every day — this is a must. On top of that, try to update your partner on your life and its happenings, however mundane some of the things may seem.

To up the game, send each other pictures, audio clips, and short videos from time to time. By putting in this kind of effort, you make the other person feel loved and attended to.

5. Talk dirty with each other.

Sexual tension is undoubtedly one of the most important things between couples. In a way, sexual desire is like the glue that keeps both parties from drifting apart. Sexual need is not only biological but also emotional.

Keep the flames burning by sending each other teasing texts filled with sexual innuendos and provocative descriptions. Sexy puns work pretty well too.

6. Avoid “dangerous” situations.

If you already know that going to the club or going drinking with your group of friends late at night will displease your partner, then you should either 1. Not do it or 2. Tell your partner beforehand to reassure them.

You should not let this sort of thing slip by because it will only make your partner extra worried or suspicious – and of course, very upset because they will feel powerless or lack control over the situation.

Advertising

You can fall victim to your traps by going out with eye candy from work after work or dating someone from your past who has been flirting with you without realizing it. Before entering a dangerous situation, you need to recognize the dangers.

Listen to your heart, but don’t just rely on it. Make sure you also listen to your mind.

7. Do things together.

Play a game online together. Watch a documentary at the same time on YouTube or Vimeo. Share a song on Skype while another plays the guitar. Video-call each other and go for a walk together. Together, go online shopping – and buy each other gifts (see #13).

You really have to be creative and spontaneous about it.

8. Do similar things.

Recommend books, TV shows, movies, music, news and etc., to each other. When you read, watch and listen to the same things, you get to have more topics in common to talk about.

Even if you live apart, it’s nice to have some shared experiences.

9. Make visits to each other.

Every long-distance relationship is enriched by visits.

After all the waiting and yearning and abstinence, you finally get to meet each other to fulfil all the little things like kissing, holding hands, etc. These are typical for couples in long-distance relationships but more special and intimate for long-distance couples.

The atmosphere will be filled with fireworks, glitter bombs, confetti, rainbows, and butterflies.

10. Have a goal in mind.

Are we going to be apart for a long time?” “what about the future?” These are the questions you should ask yourselves.

In fact, a couple cannot stay in a long-distance relationship forever. Eventually, we all need to settle down.

So make a plan with each other. Set up a timeline, mark down the estimated times apart and times together, and draw an end goal.

Advertising

It is important that you two are on the same page and have the same goals. So that even if you are not living in the same space and the same timezone, both of you are still motivated to work together in the same direction towards a future that includes one another.

That’s right, you need some motivation to make a relationship last too. Find out more about what motivates you here.

11. Enjoy your alone time and your time with your friends and family.

You are alone, but you are not lonely unless you choose to feel like it. You don’t have to let your world revolve around your partner — you still have you, your friends, and your family. Take this time apart to do more with your friends and family. Go to the gym more often. Get a new hobby. Binge-watch shows. There are plenty of things for you to do that don’t involve your partner.

12. Stay honest with each other.

Talk about your feelings of fear, insecurity, jealousy, apathy, whatsoever. If you try to hide anything from your partner, that secret will sooner or later swallow you up from the inside out. Don’t try to deal with things all by yourself. Be open and honest with each other. Let your partner help you and give you the support you need. It’s better to look at the problem during its initial stage than to only disclose it when it’s all too late.

13. Know each other’s schedules.

It’s helpful to know when the other person is busy and free. So that you can drop a text or make a call at the right time. You wouldn’t want to disturb your partner when they are in the middle of class or halfway through a business meeting. Make sure you are aware of everyone’s small and big events in their lives, i.e., college midterms and exams, important business trips and meetings, job interviews, etc. Particularly if you live in different time zones, this becomes more important.

14. Keep track of each other’s social media activities.

Facebook and Instagram photos of each other. Send each other tweets. Tag each other on Facebook. Post stuff on each other’s wall. Let them know you care. Be cool with stalking each other.

15. Gift a personal object for the other person to hold on to.

Memories have power. No matter what it is–a pendant, a ring, a keychain, a collection of songs and videos, or a perfume bottle. Everyday items and things have meanings to us, whether we realize it or not. We all try to store memories in material things so that when our minds fail, we will still be able to look at or hold onto something that will help us recall our memories. This is why something so simple can mean so much to a person when others may see little or no value in it.

16. Get a good messaging app.

This is extremely important because texting is the most frequent and common way of communication the two of you have. You need a good messaging app on your phones that allows interactions beyond words and emoticons.

Personally, I use this messaging app called LINE. I find it highly effective because it has a huge reserve of playful and very funny “stickers” that are free for its users to use. You can also go to the app’s “Sticker Shop” to download (or gift!) extra stickers of different themes (e.g., Hello Kitty, Pokemon, Snoopy, MARVEL, etc.) at a low price. Occasionally, the app will give out free sticker sets for promotions. This messaging app is cute and easy to learn to use.

17. Snail-mail your gift.

Mail each other postcards and hand-written love letters. Send each other gifts across the globe from time to time. Flower deliveries on birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day. Shop online and surprise each other with cool T-shirts, sexy underwear, and such.

18. Stay positive.

You need to constantly inject positive energy into the long-distance relationship to keep it alive. Yes, the waiting can be painful, and you can sometimes feel lonely, but you need to remind yourself that the fruits at the end will be sweet as heaven.

One good trick to staying positive is to be grateful all the time. Be thankful that you have someone to love — someone who also loves you back. Be thankful for the little things, like the hand-made letter that arrived safely in your mailbox the other day. Be thankful for each other’s health and safety.

Advertising

19. Keep each other updated on each other’s friends and family.

This will help you two to know each other’s culture and values. Knowing small habits of each other helps in developing an understanding and building mutual trust.

Talking about family and friends gives you more matters to talk about. The best thing to talk about is gossip and scandals.

20. Video-call whenever possible.

Because sometimes looking into each other’s eyes and hearing each other’s voices can make everything feel alright again.

A video call is though nothing like being together, but it’s the best thing and the most to do for coziness in a long-distance relationship.

21. Give each other pet names.

Because it’s cute. It keeps the lovey-dovey going. Having special names for each other reserved only for one another are heart-warming. Hearing that one word with love lifts our spirits up, and we feel assured all over again.

Chaos seems to fade away just by hearing that special word from someone special.

With the best wishes…

Love (or like) is a force that is beyond your control. Love just happens. The same goes for turning off those feelings, even when you get the perfect job halfway across the country.

Neither one of us expects to be long-distance in a relationship. But if you’re in a relationship like this, you’ll just have to make the most out of a difficult situation. These advice for long distance relationships will hopefully help you stay strong and cheerful when living apart from one another.

More Recommended Relationships Experts on Lifehack
  • Carol Morgan —  A communication professor, dating/relationship and success coach
  • Dr. Magdalena Battles — A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault
  • Randy Skilton —  An educator in the areas of relationships and self-help

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Read Next