Advertising

7 Keys to Effective Listening

Advertising
7 Keys to Effective Listening

You hear all the time how important effective communication is. It’s critically important in your career and the same holds true for marriage or any long term partnership.

If you’ve read any of my other articles on this website, you’ll know I am a huge proponent of strong communication skills. I have seen over and over again how clear and effective communication has helped people in many phases of their lives.

Here is something that so many of us forget: listening is half of all communication.

It’s great to be able to articulate your thoughts and ideas clearly, but it’s just as important to have effective listening skills.

Let’s take a look at how important effective listening is and along the way, I’ll share with you 7 keys to effective listening. Read on to learn how to become a powerful listener.

Why Listening Skills Are Important

Unfortunately, many of us can only listen just long enough to form our own responses to what is being said, then we stop listening.

Why is that? Because we have all the information we need to share our own opinion. Needless to say, this isn’t effective listening, not by a long shot. Listening skills are vital in communication.

Deep down one of our greatest pleasures is feeling understood by another person. We can’t feel truly understood by another person unless we feel they are really listening to us. But once we feel that they are, it allows us to open up and share what we want to.

We can do this because the sense of someone seriously listening to us makes us trust the other person. I don’t have to tell you how much trust can help strengthen a relationship – it’s critically important. When you combine the listening with a nice dose of empathy, it creates an even stronger bond.

Being an effective listener also benefits the listener. When we take the time to truly understand the other person, it allows us to gain a deeper understanding of what is being said and where the other person is coming from.

We’ve already discussed how the person speaking will feel better understood and want to trust us. This in and of itself helps us gain an ally and better partner, whether it’s in a personal or a business relationship.

But there’s even more upside to being a great listener. We learn more and open up our horizons.

Advertising

It’s too easy to get trapped inside our little world and look at things through our own lens of the world. But when we listen to another person, we can learn something new and sometimes, see the world through a new set of eyes. How cool is that?

What Makes a Good Listener?

Now that we know why listening skills are so important, let’s take a look at what makes a good listener.

We all know how easy it is to pay partial attention to what someone is saying. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s the simple ongoing chatter inside our heads. Other times we are distracted thinking about another topic entirely. And sometimes we feel we’ve heard enough from the speaker to form our own response, so we are just waiting for them to take a break so we can get our 2 cents in. This isn’t being a very good listener.

Besides showing some of the keys to effective listening below, good listeners, in general, tend to be empathetic and listen with an open mind. They don’t allow their preformed opinions to color what they are hearing.

Good listeners are usually emotionally intelligent, so they are not only aware of their feelings but also perceptive of how others feel. They usually do a good job of asking follow-up questions – another good sign that they are listening.

They ask these questions as a way of gaining a deeper understanding of others. A good listener is okay with being uncomfortable. They can allow silence to go on while the other person thinks about what they are going to say and don’t get defensive. These are some of the traits of a good listener.

What Is Effective Listening?

Effective listening skills allow us to actively understand the information provided by the person speaking. Effective listening also has to do with showing a genuine interest in the topic being discussed.

Many times, it also includes providing the speaker with input and feedback along the way, as well as asking thought-provoking, insightful questions to gain a full understanding of the subject. Asking these incisive questions also shows the speaker that the listener truly understands what is being said and can empathize with the speaker.

Sounds like powerful stuff right? Read on for some of the benefits of effective listening.

What Are the Benefits of Effective Listening?

Effective listening will reward all parties involved in many ways, here are a few.

Effective Listening Builds Trust

This is probably the most important benefit of effective listening.

Remember, when someone feels like they are truly being listened to and understood, it’s only natural for them to begin to develop trust for the person listening. Or if the relationship already has a basis of trust, it only serves to strengthen it.

Advertising

Productivity Goes Up

This is key in the workplace. Just think about how much more productive you could be in your job if there was all-around clear communication. That alone would help it shoot through the roof!

Add in working with a group of folks who are effectively listening and understanding each other and you’ve got a recipe for super productivity.

Better Relationships

It almost goes without saying that if you are communicating with effective listeners regularly, it will forge stronger relationships. Again, the ability to feel like you are being truly heard and understood creates tighter and more meaningful relationships.

Greater Problem Solving

Remember that old saying two heads are better than one? What that means is that most of the time, 2 people can solve a problem better than one person on their own.

The logic is simple: two people can look at the same problem or challenge from different angles, different sets of eyes, and different experiences from which to draw on. When people are listening and understanding each other, the ability to solve problems is greatly enhanced.

Now let’s get to the really good part – 7 keys to effective listening.

7 Keys to Effective Listening

1. Be Attentive and Relaxed

Probably the most important part of effective listening is being attentive. Be present and at the moment with the person you are listening to.

Follow along with the words and thoughts they are sharing to build the full picture. Do your best to block out distractions, whether that’s street noise or your internal thoughts.

You don’t want to be attentive to the point of staring unblinkingly and not moving at the person while they are speaking. That can get unnerving. You want to temper your attentiveness with being relaxed as well. This will help the other person feel more at ease.

And speaking of staring unblinkingly at the other person. . .

2. Maintain Eye Contact and Face the Other Person

You’ll want to keep regular eye contact with the person speaking and have your body facing towards them.

Again, the regular eye contact doesn’t mean you are staring directly at them without batting an eyelid for minutes on end. It means, in general, you are keeping your eyes focused on them and their eyes.

Advertising

You don’t want your eyes darting to your phone or your computer screen. That takes away your attention.

You’ll also want to have your body facing the other person most of the time. It’s a non-verbal way of communicating that you are paying attention to and listening to them.

3. Listen and Paint a Picture

While you are listening attentively, allow your mind to paint a mental picture of what is being said. This could be a literal picture in your mind or it may be more abstract involving concepts and ideas.

When you combine listening attentively with your mind creating a mental picture, it will help you gain greater clarity around what is being said, as well as build a more lasting impression in your mind.

4. Do Not Interrupt

One of the surest ways to create choppy communication is by interrupting.

Think about when you’ve been in a verbal fight with someone and you both keep interrupting each other to get your point across. Nobody ever gets to fully vocalize about what is upsetting them.

The same concept holds true here. Don’t interrupt the other person while they are talking. It conveys the message that you don’t care what they are saying and that you think what you have to say is more important than what they have to say.

Speaking of having your turn to talk. . .

5. Ask Questions to Clarify and Understand

When the person you are talking to stops talking and indicates you can take a turn, you want to use your words to good effect. The goal here is to ask clarifying questions that will help you understand fully what the other person is saying.

Again, wait until the other person stops talking before asking your questions. Do not interrupt them to inject your point of view or ask off-topic questions. Asking tangential type questions can easily take the conversation down a completely different path.

We see this happen all the time during everyday conversations. Someone is telling us about an adventure they went on and mentions a restaurant they went to. Someone else then asks a question about that restaurant and BOOM, the conversation turns to a discussion of restaurants.

Don’t be that person.

Advertising

6. Keep an Open Mind

Another of the 7 keys to effective listening is to keep an open mind. It’s important to listen with an impartial mind and not mentally judge the person speaking to you.

To truly hear someone and to give them a chance to fully share what they are talking about, you must keep an open mind. If they say something that gives you pause or raises some concerns, keep it to yourself for the time being.

Now is not the time to be forming judgments or making assumptions based on what is being said. Keep your mind open to allow them to speak freely and for you to listen fully.

7. Try to Feel What the Other Person is Feeling

Now we get to the part where you are working to empathize with the speaker. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes and see the situation from their vantage point.

To get a good depth of understanding, you’ll need to do your best to put yourself in as close to a mindset as the other person is. This isn’t easy, and it does take work.

If you’ve gotten to the point where you are feeling happy when they seem to be happy or sad when they are, you’ve done a great job of really understanding what they are telling you to the point of feeling similar.

Conclusion

As a reminder, listening is half of all communication.

Being a good listener takes practice and some work, but it’s well worth it. You’ll gain greater clarity with your interactions with other people you interact with. This benefits both your professional and personal life.

Imagine having clear communication with the people in all areas of your life. Sounds great, right?

Be sure to use these 7 keys to effective listening to greatly improve your communication and relationships with others.

More Effective Listening Tips

Featured photo credit: Mimi Thian via unsplash.com

More by this author

Mat Apodaca

On a mission to share about how communication in the workplace and personal relationships plays a large role in your happiness

How to Be Influential and Gain Respect at Work How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide) How to Take Constructive Criticism Like a Champ How to Memorize a Speech the Smart Way How to Say No Politely And Professionally

Trending in Communication

1 10 Signs You Are in a Codependent Relationship (And What To Do About It) 2 I Want To Be Happy: 7 Science-Backed Ways to Find Happiness 3 13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently 4 10 Morning Habits Of Happy People 5 What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Advertising
How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

Advertising

  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

Advertising

Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

Advertising

However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

Advertising

Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

Advertising

  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

Read Next